Paris : At a time when India is witnessing increased activities of right-wing groups, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said his government will defend the rights of citizens of all faiths.

Modi, during his address at the UNESCO headquarters here, also asked the global community to dwell deep on culture and religion to overcome the rising tide of extremism as well as violence. "We will defend and protect the rights and liberty of every citizen. We will ensure that every citizen, of every faith, culture and creed has an equal place in our society; belief in our future; and the confidence to pursue it," he said.

Noting that culture remains a source of conflict in many parts of the world, Modi said it must connect and not divide and that it should be a bridge to greater respect and understanding between people. "We must turn deep into our cultures; traditions; and religions; to overcome the rising tide of extremism, violence, and divisions across the world," said the Prime Minister.

The Modi government is under attack from opposition parties as well as some minority community groups for not being able to curb the activities like 'Ghar Wapsi' (conversions) by RSS-backed groups. Calling climate change a pressing global challenge, the Prime Minister who arrived here late last night, said his government has set a target of adding 175,000 MW of clean and renewable energy in the next seven years.

His remarks come ahead of a crucial UN meet on climate change to be held here later this year. Modi also noted that the foundation of India's Constitution rests on a fundamental principle of the peace and prosperity of all.
"The strength of the nation is determined by the joined hands of every citizen; and, real progress is measured through empowerment of the weakest," he said. 

"We have built a modern state in an ancient land, with a timeless tradition of openness and co-existence and, a society of extraordinary diversity," Modi told the gathering which included a large number of NRIs.

"This has been our creed since we assumed office nearly a year ago," he said.

underlined that "culture must connect, not divide, our world" and that it should be a bridge to greater respect and understanding between people.

The Prime Minister, while outlining the steps taken by his government for the development of the country, said "We shall judge our progress not just by the cold statistics of growth, but by the warm glow of belief and hope on human faces. For me, it means many things".

Invoking the Indian Constitution, he underlined that its foundation rests on a fundamental principle "the peace and prosperity of all is indivisible from the welfare of the individual".

During his 20-minute speech, Modi referred to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi as also philosopher sage Aurobindo, at whose statue outside the UNESCO building he paid his respects.

"There is much that we can learn from his humanism and spiritualism, from his belief in the unity of individual consciousness with the world outside; the enlightened purpose of education; the service of science; and, the unity of world, founded on national freedom, diversity of civilisations and autonomy of culture," he said.

Noting that the link between habitat and fulfilment of human potential is deep and strong, he said, "It is a guiding spirit for the purpose of this institution – the defence of peace in the mind of men".

Among those who were present in the audience were Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani, senior Congress leader Karan Singh, who is on the Executive Board of UNESCO, as also Bollywood actress Mallika Sherawat, who was mobbed by several NRIs for photographs.

"The highest priority for my government is to provide a roof over every head; power in every house; sanitation and clean water within everyone's reach; a hope for every child to survive; and a chance for every new mother to love her child," Modi said.

"It also means clean rivers, air that we can breathe and forests filled with the sound of birds. To achieve these goals, we need not just policies and resources, but even more the power of science," he said. 

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