Prez to get cracking with Young India

Last Updated 28 October 2010, 19:20 IST

Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will celebrate Deepavali in Mumbai on November 7 next — the second day of the much-hyped visit of the US President to India.

The Obamas are scheduled to go to a school in Mumbai on the November 7 morning and join the children in celebrating the Deepavali.

He will also greet university students on the occasion before addressing them in the town hall later in the day.

Though the US officials had initially planned a visit by the president and the first lady to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, it was later dropped from the itinerary, apparently because Obama’s aides advised him to avoid putting the scarf on his head — a must for every devotee visiting the shrine — as it could have conveyed an image of him appearing to be a Muslim and send a wrong message to conservative Americans.

The president and first lady had celebrated Deepavali in 2009, too. Obama had lit a traditional ‘diya’ amid Vedic chants in the White House and thus became the first US President to take part in the celebrations.

The practice of celebrating Deepavali by the US government had been introduced during President George Bush’s tenure, when the event had been celebrated in the Indian Treaty Room in a building annexed to the White House. Bush, however, had never attended it.

It was after the change of regime in Washington, DC, that Deepavali had made its foray into the main White House. Just after signing an executive order restoring the White House Advisory Commission and Inter-agency Working Group to address issues concerning the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, Obama had lit the ‘diya’ in the historic East Room of the White House on October 14 in 2009, three days ahead of that year’s Deepavali.

“I think it is fitting that we begin this work in the week leading up to the holiday of Diwali – the festival of lights – when members of some of the world’s greatest faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil,” he had said.

Confirming that Obamas will celebrate the Deepavali with ‘young India’ in Mumbai this year, top US officials said it was intended to pay tribute to the country’s cultural diversity and its tradition of tolerance.

“In India, you have one of the most dynamic and tolerant and diverse societies in the world and we want to pay tribute to that. And I think that’s particularly why, for instance, we wanted to have an event where we could celebrate in some fashion Deepavali with Indian young people,” Ben Rhodes, the US Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication, said in Washington.

The Obamas are going to give Taj Mahal a miss, ostensibly due to time constraints and the fact that their daughters – Sasha and Malia – are not coming.

The US President and the first lady, however, will have a “culture stop” at Delhi’s Humayun’s Tomb, which, as Rhodes put it, “speaks to the huge – the enormously impressive civilisation that India has had over many centuries.”

(Published 28 October 2010, 19:20 IST)

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