An Obama Toast For India

Under a starry night, inside a white tent pitched on the south lawns of the White House, US President Barack Obama toasted Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the first state dinner of his presidency to celebrate the burgeoning friendship between India and the US.

“Aapka Swagat Hai (you are welcome),” said the daal-loving Obama in slighted accented Hindi, setting the mood for this much-awaited evening and Washington’s most-discussed social event, symbolising the friendship between the world’s great democracies.

“Under the stars, tonight we celebrate the friendship between India and the US. We celebrate the growing partnership between India and the US,” Obama said to ringing applause from a star-studded audience of over 300 people.

The audience at the Obama presidency’s first state dinner was an eclectic one, and packed in that immaculate white tent were some of the most powerful, wealthiest and talented Indians and Americans.

Candle lights, pink roses, vintage cutlery and a menu that owed much to the White House garden nurtured by First Lady Michelle Obama imbued the dinner with that personal touch that will be the talk of this power-conscious Washington DC for many months to come.

The entire American establishment, including US Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Obama’s trusted aides like Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett were among those present.

Indian billionaires Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani, high profile, high achieving Indian-Americans like Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi, new age spirituality guru Deepak Chopra, the young and powerful Anish Goel, South Asia expert in Obama’s National Security Council, Rajat Gupta of McKinsey fame were among those who cheered as Obama pledged to take India-US ties to a new high.

Invoking Diwali celebrations and Guru Nanak’s birth anniversary he hosted at the White House, Obama lauded over two million Indians who are enriching American life in all corners of the country.

An admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Obama recalled fondly the legendary Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, and said “his words speak to us tonight”.

The white tent resonated with convivial cheer as Obama proposed the toast to “great triumphs and achievements” that await the two countries as they forge a 21st century partnership.

Manmohan Singh warmly reciprocated Obama’s greetings, saying he was “overwhelmed by the warmth of his hospitality and the courtesy extended to us personally and the grace and charm of First Lady Michelle Obama”.

In a speech punctuated by applause, Manmohan Singh showered praise on Obama saying his journey to the White House has captured the imagination of millions of people in India.

If Obama invoked Gandhi and Nehru, Manmohan Singh recalled the words of Abraham Lincoln in a heart-felt tribute to the man 30 years his junior who broke the glass ceiling to become the first African-American president of the US.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years,” he said quoting Lincoln.

Praising Obama for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Manmohan Singh said the coveted award was a recognition of the healing touch “you have provided and the power of your idealism and vision”.

Conjuring a robust picture of India-US relations, Manmohan Singh, who is the third Indian prime minister to be accorded the signal honour of the state dinner, said the two countries must find “new pathways of international cooperation that respond more effectively to grave challenges confronting the world”.

“A strong and sustained engagement between our two countries is good for our people and the world. We are embarking on a new phase of our partnership,” he said.

Author Profile

Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.