Washington: US President Trump lit a diya in the White House last week, calling Indians “very, very special people” and exulting about US-India relationship, ties he said “can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity, and peace.” The ten-minute event in the Roosevelt Room at the White House had familiar ad-libbed Trump asides, digressions, and playing to the gallery, but with his daughter Ivanka Trump also in attendance, it was as warm as it was unexpected, considering he had just returned from Europe amid the usual tumult in his administration, and there was no advance notification of his participation. There was also the usual storm in the teacup with critics complaining that he failed to greet Hindus on the occasion and that he referred to South East Asians when he meant South Asians.
It happened because an initial tweet from the @real-DonaldTrump account after the event picked a line from the middle of his speech and recognised the festival as “a holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains” without mentioning Hindus. Trump began his remarks by saying “I am thrilled to be here for the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, and I am honoured to host this beautiful ceremony at the White House. Our nation is blessed to be home to millions of hardworking citizens of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage who enrich our country in countless ways.”
Among those Trump greeted personally on the occasion was Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Seema Verma, CMS administrator, Uttam Dhillon, the acting administrator of Drug Enforcement Agency, and Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Typical of the showmanship the President is known for, he announced that he was nominating Neomi Rao to be on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, the seat of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was recently elevated to the Supreme Court. He also kidded with FCC chairman Ajit Pai saying “I just didn’t like one decision he made, but that’s all right. Not even a little bit. But he’s independent,” referring presumably to the issue of net neutrality.
There was also the familiar complaint about trade with India backed by a compliment. “The US has deep ties to the nation of India, and I am grateful for my friendship with PM Modi. We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India, but they’re very good traders. They’re very good negotiators, you would say, right? The best,” Trump joked, adding, “So we’re working, and it’s moving along.”