The first American president to celebrate Deepavali in the White House last year, Obama and the American First Lady, Michelle, will take part in the festival of lights on November 7 which would be the second day of his four-day visit to India. The Obamas are scheduled to go to a school in Mumbai that 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 that day.
Though 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, ostensibly because Obama’s aides advised him to avoid putting a scarf on his head — a must for every devotee visiting the shrine — as it would have conveyed an image of him appearing to be a Muslim and sent a wrong message to American political conservatives.
Obama will also visit the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai where he is scheduled to attend a major business meeting, before heading to New Delhi, a top White House official in Washington said, briefing reporters on the US president’s maiden trip to India.
But Deepavali celebrations will not commence until he pays homage to the victims of 26/11 on November 6 at the Taj Hotel — which was the “centerpiece” of the 2008 terror attacks. “The first event that the President will do will be a statement at the Taj Hotel, where he will stay, to commemorate the Mumbai terrorist attacks,” US Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said.
Pointing out that India is a close counter-terrorism partner of the US and has shown “remarkable resilience” in responding to terrorism, Rhodes said Obama desired to pay his respects to the victims as also to make brief remarks to a group of people connected to the attacks.
Rhodes said it is important to note that the US and India are world’s largest democracies, a fact fundamental to their relationship and which makes it a “qualitatively different relationship” with shared interests and values. “... the example of Gandhi is one that has inspired Americans, inspired African-Americans, including Dr (Martin Luther) King, and is very personally important to the president. So we’re looking forward to visiting the Gandhi Museum to underscore those shared experiences and shared values,” he said.
Obama will then attend a business summit organised by the US-India Business Council, Rhodes said, adding that US was keen on discussing business opportunities in the huge dynamic and growing market of India and ways to deepen economic ties.