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Obama Wraps Up Visit To India


We're getting a glimpse of the opportunities and the friction in the relations of the world's two largest democracies. President Obama has finished his trip to India. Each country, the U.S. and India, is a huge market for the other. We will start, though, with the friction. President Obama finished his visit by urging Indians to safeguard the rights of women and of religious freedom. NPR's Julie McCarthy is covering this story from New Delhi. And, Julie, this is interesting, the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, is a self-declared Hindu nationalist in a country with a lot of people who are not Hindus. So what did the president say about religion?

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, it was this unmistakably strong message to India to preserve the rights of other people to practice whatever religion they want to. It was set in this larger context of what India and the U.S. share in terms of being democracies that threw off colonialism and wrote their own founding documents that look very similar. And the president raised this issue, Steve, of religious tolerance at a time when India is really grappling with religious intolerance, attempts to elevate Hinduism over other minority religions, especially Islam.

Now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not at the address when the president told the audience, which included millions of people on TV, that religion's been used to tap into the darker impulses of men. And he urged Indians to avoid that and to look beyond differences and rejoice in what he called the beauty of every soul.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And nowhere is that more important than India. Nowhere is it going to be more necessary for that foundational value to be upheld. India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith, so long it's not splintered along any lines and is unified as one nation.

MCCARTHY: He said he was addressing himself to the young people, who he said could still change their thinking and rid themselves of stereotypes. And he got a very big round of applause when he talked about women's equality.

INSKEEP: Well, what did the president say about that?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, he acknowledged that the United States is still trying to give women and girls all the opportunities they deserve and equal treatment. And the president acknowledged that Indian women have shown that they can succeed in every field, including government, where there have been a lot of women leaders. And he said India's young women are part of a new generation standing up. Here's what he had to say.


OBAMA: Here's what we know. We know from experience that nations are more successful when their women are successful. When girls go to school...


OBAMA: ...This is one of the most direct measures of whether a nation is going to develop effectively, is how it treats its women.

INSKEEP: The president, speaking, of course, in a country where there's been a lot of focus on attacks on women. So let me ask you, Julie McCarthy, it's always a delicate thing for a world leader to go abroad and be talking to another country about its domestic issues. Were Indians taking this at all as a lecture from the president?

MCCARTHY: I don't think so, Steve. I think a lot of people share the sort of general, global outrage about the treatment of women - the mistreatment of women that they see in India, which, by the way, must be noted, is a global phenomenon. And I think, as far as the religious question goes, it has caused, internally, upset and unease among a lot of people. So, no, I don't think it would be viewed necessarily as the president being out of bounds or lecturing.

INSKEEP: So it didn't change the tone - the upbeat tone of this visit, then?

MCCARTHY: Well, he did climb on a plane as he left, and Mr. Modi was not in that auditorium. But they did seem to create this perception that the U.S. is elevating India, happy to do so. India is embracing the U.S. and happy to do so. But there is this reality - India is a difficult place to do business, and there's a lot that needs to be done here. Whether U.S. companies, which were a big part of this visit, have the energy and patience to stick with India is a big question. So after all the warm glow fades, have they been able to generate something concrete?

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in New Delhi. Julie, thanks as always.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.