President Barack Obama said India and the United States are not just natural partners, but that America can be India’s best partner.
Obama capped his historic trip to India with a speech calling on both nations to come together to fight poverty, climate change and intolerance.
After nearly three days of wooing Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and business leaders, Obama took his message of a new chapter in U.S.-India relations directly to the Indian people on Tuesday.
“I’m here because I am absolutely convinced that both our peoples will have more jobs and more opportunity, our nations will be more secure, and the world will be a safer and more just place when our two democracies stand together,” he said.
Obama made the comments a day after becoming the first U.S. president to take part in India’s Republic Day celebration as chief guest.
Speaking Tuesday to an audience of 1,500 people in New Delhi’s Siri Fort, Obama said the United States and India can improve the lives of their people and reduce poverty through increased trade and investment in infrastructure and renewable energy.
The U.S. president added that in order to be true global partners, both nations must confront and lead the effort to fight climate change.
The United States and India are the world’s largest polluters after China.
During talks Sunday, Modi said he is ready to work with Obama toward a global deal to cut emissions during the United Nations climate summit in December.
On Tuesday, Obama acknowledged that it might seem unfair to ask a developing and emerging economy like India to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.
“But here’s the truth, even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if growing countries like India -- with soaring energy needs -- don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change,” he said.
The bulk of Obama’s final remarks in India Tuesday spoke to empowering youth and promoting equality.
He drew cheers when speaking of women’s rights, saying that if nations truly want to prosper, they cannot ignore the talents of half their people.
Two years ago, the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman aboard a New Delhi bus shook India, sparking widespread protests.
“Every girl’s life matters. Every daughter deserves the same chance as our sons. And every woman should be able to go about the day -- to walk the street, or ride the bus -- and be safe and be treated with the respect and dignity that she deserves,” said Obama, the father of two daughters.
The American leader also spoke out against religious intolerance, saying every person has the right to practice their faith how they choose and to do so free from persecution and fear.
India has struggled with religious tensions. In 2002, Hindu-Muslim riots killed at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslim, in Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
Modi was accused of looking the other way and was cleared of any involvement, but was long denied a visa into the U.S. due to the violence.
Obama invoked the deadly 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and quoted Mahatma Gandhi’s words that "the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden."
With those remarks, Obama concluded his trip to India and left for Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to the family of late King Abdullah.