New Delhi: President Barack Obama on Tuesday wound up his three-day trip with a strong pitch for religious tolerance, cautioning that India will succeed so long as it was not "splintered along the lines of religious faith".
Delivering a powerful message against religious extremism shortly before he left for Saudi Arabia, he said, "every person has a right to practice the faith that they choose and to practice no faith at all, and to do so free of persecution, fear or discrimination".
Obama's comments in the backdrop of controversies over religious conversion and "ghar wapsi" programmes of some Hindutva outfits, triggered a fierce debate in the social media with some taking exception to his "lecturing India" and others seeing them as a timely reminder to the government.
His 35-minute address to a select gathering of some 1,500 people in Siri Fort auditorium in a US-style Town Hall meeting, was the US leader's only public speaking engagement without any Indian leader by his side. He received rapturous cheers several times.
The US President also spoke of the strong ties between India and his country which were natural partners with their shared values of democracy, freedom of religion and diversity that gave opportunities for even people of humble origins to rise to the top.