Guess Who's Coming To Dinner
The Indian guests at the three state dinners for Indian prime ministers during this decade are a study in contrasts and reflect the political bases and priorities of the hosting administration.
The Indian guests at the three state dinners for Indian prime ministers during this decade are a study in contrasts and reflect the political bases and priorities of the hosting administration. Surprisingly, Pres. George W. Bush’s 2005 state dinner, which had the fewest guests, had the highest proportion of Indian guests. The state dinners by Pres. Barack Obama and Pres. Bill Clinton boasted almost twice as many Indian guests, but as they were both significantly larger events, the proportion of Indians was noticeably smaller.
Just 30 percent – 104 – of Obama’s 336 guests at the state dinner on Nov. 24, were Indian, compared to 46 percent (59) of the 128 guests invited by Pres. Bush to his state dinner in 2005 for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Clinton White House did not disclose the complete guest list for its 2000 state dinner for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, at which fewer than a quarter of the nearly 700 guests were Indian. Little India has filed a freedom of information request for the list from the national archives, which had yet to release the data at press time.
Obama’s guest list is notable for the large number of Indian Americans working in his administration invitees. Nearly a sixth of the Indians at the banquet were Obama administration officials or their guests, including Rajiv J Shah, under secretary for Research, Education & Economics, Department of Agriculture, Rajesh De, deputy assistant attorney general, Anish Goel, acting senior director, South Asia Affairs, National Security Council, Neal Katyal, principal deputy solicitor general, Kalpen Modi, associate director, Office of Public Engagement, Sonal Shah, deputy Aasistant to the President, and Obama’s college buddy Vinai Thummalapally, presently U.S ambassador to Belize.
Equally notably, as a former community organizer himself, Pres. Obama gave a nod to Indian American activists, such as Bhairavi Desai and Javaid Tariq of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), Annetta Seecharran, of South Asian Youth Action (SAYA!), Deepa Iyer, of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Maneesha Kelkar, of Manavi, and Seema Agnani, of Chhaya Community Development Corporation.
Bush’s guest list was heavily loaded with his Indian American donor base, predominantly physicians, led by Dr. Zach Zachariah, president, Fort Lauderdale Heart Institute, who was one of his leading fundraisers. Other physicians invited to the Bush state banquet included, Dr. Praveen Chaudhari, Brookhaven National Laboratory; Dr. Raghavendra Vijayanagar, Gulf to Bay Cardiovascular Surgical Associates; Dr. Ravindra Desai, ENT Surgeon; Dr. Shabbir Hashim, Westgate Dental Arts; Dr. Sharad Lakhanpal, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin; and Dr. Srini Malini, radiologist.
Just a handful of guests made both the Bush and Obama list, most notably the film director Manoj ‘Night’ Shyamalan and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Just four Indian American guests – Ethan Allen’s Farooq Katwari, PepsiCo’s Indira Nooyi, McKinsey’s Rajat Gupta and Asia Society’s Vishaka Desai – made all three state dinners hosted by U.S. presidents for Indian prime ministers during this decade.
The Indian American guests at Clinton’s state dinner reflected both the Internet bubble and his financial donors, such as Sycamore chairman Gururaj Deshpande, then InfoUSA Chairman Vinod Gupta, venture capitalists Vinod Dham and Vinod Khosla, former United Airlines President Rono Dutta, and Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia.
Celebrities that made both the Clinton and Obama list included new age guru Deepak Chopra and author Jhumpa Lahiri. The official Indian delegation featured a handful of repeats, representing a continuing administration, including Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, as well as prominent Indian industrialists Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani.
A striking difference in Obama’s guest list, perhaps one that contributed to the notorious gate crashing of the party by the Virginia couple Tareq and Michaele Salahi, was the participation of the White House social staff, who were entirely absent from Pres. Bush’s party. The social staffers included not just White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, whose presence has been widely criticized. Obama’s guest list also included, curiously with honorific salutations usually reserved for ambassadors and heads of states, three other White House insiders who might otherwise have been minding the event’s logistics: The Honorable (Ms.) Alyssa Mastromonaco, White House Office of Scheduling; The Honorable (Ms.) Lisa Brown, Office of Staff Secretary; The Honorable (Ms.) Tina Tchen, Office of Public Liaison.
Indian Guests at President Barack Obama’s State Dinner For
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur
November 24, 2009
Indian Guests at George W. Bush’s State Dinner For
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur
July 18, 2005