NEW DELHI — Former President Barack Obama has come under fire from Indian officials after he called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to protect the rights of minorities, especially Muslims.

obama told CNN last week that the “protection of minority Muslims in a Hindu-majority India” was “something worth mentioning” during President Joe Biden’s meeting with Modi, who was in Washington for a historic state visit that drew condemnation. of many civil rights groups.

“If the rights of ethnic minorities in India are not protected, there is a great possibility that India will at some point start to separate,” he said.

Cabinet ministers from Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded by questioning the treatment of Muslims during Obama’s own presidency.

“Six countries with predominantly Muslim populations faced bombings because of him. Haven’t the bombings happened from Syria to Saudi Arabia to Yemen to Iraq? India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters on Monday.

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh made a similar comment, saying Monday that Obama «should think about himself, how many Muslim countries he has attacked.»

BJP politician Himanta Biswa Sarma, chief minister of the state of Assam, which has a large Muslim population, also mocked Obama last week in response to a sarcastic tweet by an Indian journalist who asked if the state police would arrest the former president. US feedback

«There are many Hussain Obamas in India itself,» sarma replied, misspelling Obama’s middle name, which is commonly used by Muslims. «We should prioritize taking care of them before considering going to Washington.»

Officials in India, the world’s largest democracy, deny accusations that Muslims and other religious minorities have been treated unequally under Modi, who became prime minister in 2014.

He state departmentHuman rights groups and others point to the end of autonomy for Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, as well as a citizenship law that the United Nations described as «fundamentally discriminatory» for the exclusion of Muslim immigrants.

Before becoming prime minister, Modi was expelled from the United States over allegations that he failed to stop riots in 2002 that killed 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in the state of Gujarat, where he was head of government at the time. Modi denies being complicit in the attacks, and India’s Supreme Court last year upheld a ruling that he should be acquitted of all charges.

Biden said on Thursday that he and Modi had discussed «democratic values» during their meeting. The two leaders appeared at a news conference during which Modi, who rarely answers questions from reporters and has never given a solo news conference, was asked about allegations of religious discrimination by his government. .

The prime minister said he was «shocked» by the question and that India was a democracy with «absolutely no room» for discrimination.

“Democracy is our spirit,” he said. “Democracy runs through our veins. We live democracy. And our forefathers have really put words to this concept, and that’s in the form of our constitution.»

«In India’s democratic values,» he added, «there is absolutely no discrimination based on caste, creed or age, or any kind of geographic location.»

His comments were echoed on Monday by Union Minister Hardeep Puri, who told reporters that India was not just any democracy, but the «mother of democracy». He highlighted the diversity of the South Asian country of 1.4 billion people and said its minorities were «safe.»

The reporter who asked Modi about the discrimination, Sabrina Siddiqui of The Wall Street Journal, quickly became the target of an online harassment campaign by Modi supporters, drawing strong condemnation from the White House.

«It is completely unacceptable and is antithetical to the very principles of democracy that … were on display last week during the state visit,» National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday.