India will succeed as long as it is not splintered along religious lines, U.S. President Barack Obama said here on his visit to India, while addressing an audience of students and other invitees at the end of his visit to India. 

His words, along with a pointed reference to Article 25 of the Indian Constitution which guarantees religious freedom, is seen as a strong statement against fundamentalism and extremism here and in the U.S. “Every person has the right to practise their faith as they choose, or no faith at all without fear or discrimination,” said Mr. Obama admitting he had often felt “treated differently” because of his background in the U.S. 

In his nearly 40-minute speech on avenues for Indo-U.S. partnership, Mr. Obama spoke about religious freedom and gender equality. “In all countries, upholding this freedom is the responsibility of the government and each person. Religion has been used to tap into the dark side of man.”

He praised democracy that allowed the “poor to dream big” in both India and the U.S., and referring to Narendra Modi and himself, he said these were countries where “the son of a tea vendor can be PM, a Dalit can draft the Constitution and the grandson of a cook can be President.” 

Mr. Obama referred several times to his wife, Michelle, who was in the front row, calling her a “strong woman” when he spoke of the importance of equal opportunities for boys and girls.
“I was impressed to see all the women in the Indian armed forces during the Republic Day parade,” he said. 

Speaking about the kind of cooperation India and the U.S. can build, while addressing an audience of students and other invitees, Mr. Obama said, “Not just natural partners, I believe the U.S. can be India’s best partner.” 

Mr. Obama drew many similarities between India and the U.S., saying he was optimistic about their shared future because, “We vote in free elections, reach for similar heights, respect human rights.” He said the U.S. wanted to be “first in line” to build India’s infrastructure, including “roads, ports, bridges and airports.” 

Mr. Obama’s speech came at the end of his three-day visit to India, after which he left for Saudi Arabia on a condolence visit following the death of King Abdullah.