Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday criticised former United States President Barack Obama’s recent comments about minority rights in India, saying that Washington had bombed six Muslim-dominated countries during his regime.

Obama had made the statement on Friday, hours before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was to meet US President Joe Biden during a state visit.

In an interview with CNN, Obama had said that if a US president meets with Modi, the “protection of the Muslim minority in a majority-Hindu India” was worth a mention.

The former US president added: “If I had a conversation with Mr Modi – who I know well – part of my argument would be that if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities in India, then there is a strong possibility India at some point starts pulling apart. And we’ve seen what happens when you start getting those kinds of large internal conflicts.”

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On Sunday, Sitharaman alleged that Opposition leaders “do not speak in India’s interest” when they address events in foreign countries. “As they cannot defeat Prime Minister Modi in the elections, they prop up such people,” she said. “Such people, too, get involved in such debates because of them – without understanding the ground-level details.”

Sitharaman accused the Congress of “going to Pakistan and seeking their help” in defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party. “Similarly they are using foreign toolkits to meet their objectives,” she alleged. “This shows that they [Congress] do not trust their own ability.”

Sitharaman said she was shocked to hear such comments from a former US president at a time when India was seeking a partnership with the country.

“A former president under whose rule six Muslim-majority countries were bombed with more than 26,000 bombs...how will people trust his allegations?” the finance minister asked.

She also added that of the 13 awards Modi has received from foreign countries since becoming the prime minister, six were from Muslim-majority nations.

Sitharaman is the second prominent BJP leader to have attacked Obama for his comments. On Friday, Assam Chief Minister Sarma used the term “Hussain Obamas” in an apparent reference to the Muslim community. He made the comment in response to a journalist who had sarcastically asked if a first information report had been filed in Guwahati against the former US president.

After the finance minister’s remarks, former Commissioner of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom Johnnie Moore suggested that Obama should spend his energy complimenting India more than criticising the country.

“India is the most diverse country in human history,” he told ANI. “It’s not a perfect country, just like the United States, it’s not a perfect country, but its diversity is its strength, and we should be complimenting the largest democracy in the world every chance that we can, that we have.”

But, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in May had flagged India as “country of particular concern” for fourth time in a row for engaging in or tolerating systematic violations of religious freedom.

The US State Department has also expressed concern about treatment of Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities in India in its reports on human rights and religious freedom.

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