UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Saturday that he wants to hold bilateral talks with neighboring Pakistan “without a shadow of terrorism,” a day after Pakistan’s prime minister expressed frustration with stalled talks over Kashmir.
In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly since his resounding election victory in May, Modi also invoked India’s Hindu and ascetic traditions, saying they might provide answers to climate change.
Modi appeared to chastise Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had used his own General Assembly address on Friday to blame India for the collapse of the latest talks over Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed in full by both countries.
“By raising this issue in this forum,” Modi said in Hindi, “I don’t know how serious our efforts will be, and some people are doubtful about it.”
Last month, India announced it was withdrawing from the planned peace talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbors because of plans by Pakistan to consult Kashmiri separatists beforehand.
India was willing to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan, Modi said, so long as those talks are in “an atmosphere of peace, without a shadow of terrorism.”
India says Pakistan supports separatist militants that cross from the Pakistan-controlled side of Kashmir to attack Indian forces. Pakistan denies this, saying India’s military abuses the human rights of Kashmiris, most of whom are Muslim.
Modi is India’s first Hindu nationalist prime minister in a decade, embracing a strain of politics that maintains that India’s culture is essentially Hindu, although his Bharatiya Janata Party says such a culture is welcoming to other religions.
He has said fears that he will favor India’s Hindu majority over its large religious minorities, including some 170 million Muslims, are unfounded, and his comments on spirituality in his address are likely to be scrutinized for evidence of this.
Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat when religious riots raged across the northwestern state in 2002 after a Muslim mob set alight a train carrying Hindu pilgrims, killing 59 people. More than 1,000 people were killed in the riots, most of them Muslims.
Critics have accused Modi of allowing or even encouraging the riots to happen, but courts have found no evidence to indict him.
In his address on Saturday, Modi invoked the “ancient wisdom” of India’s Vedic era, during which Hinduism’s most sacred texts were written.
He also encouraged more people to take up yoga, the spiritual practice that predates the arrival of Islam in India.
“Yoga should not be just an exercise for us, but it should be a means to get connected with the world and with nature,” he said, calling on the United Nations to adopt an International Yoga Day.
“It should bring a change in our lifestyle and create awareness in us, and it can help fighting against climate change.”
Modi is due to have private meetings with the prime ministers of Nepal and Bangladesh and the president of Sri Lanka on Saturday in New York. No meetings are planned with Sharif or other Pakistani officials, according to the Indian delegation.
Next week, less than a decade after the United States banned him from visiting the country in 2005 under a law barring entry to foreigners who have severely violated religious freedoms, Modi is due to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
Modi will not eat at the state dinner, however, as he will be fasting for the Hindu festival of Navratri, his delegation has said.
Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols, editing by Jason Neely and G Crosse