ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Is Sarva Dharma Samabhava Back?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's is a neo-Vedantic Hindu interpretation of Indian secularism.

The US President Barack Obama drove home the message twice, first, on the way to winding up his three-day visit to India, in New Delhi on 27 January, and then, once more, at a high-profile National Prayer Breakfast on 5 February in Washington. At the first, his so-called “parting shot,” he referred to the Indian Constitution when he said that “Your Article 25 says all people are equally entitled to the freedom of conscience and have the right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion,” going on to emphasise that “upholding freedom of religion is the utmost responsibility of the government.” Nine days later, perhaps surmising that his reference to the Constitution did not have the desired effect, he appealed to Gandhian ideals, calling attention to “acts of (religious) intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.”

In the course of Obama’s visit, Modi, in his gold monogrammed, personalised suit, kept referring to the US president by his first name, Barack, even as the president remained consistent in his plain, prim and proper response, “Mr Modi.” Maybe that was Obama’s way of hinting that he had something up his sleeve which he still had to deliver — reminding the Prime Minister of India of his failure to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right to freedom of religion. Modi was embarrassed by Obama on 27 January; it took him quite a while to speak about it (i e, freedom of religion), even about the Indian version of secularism in the form of sarva dharma samabhava (equal respect for all religions).

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