Guess who is coming to Obama’s dinner for Mr. Singh?

November 18th, 2009 - 3:17 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By Arun Kumar
Washington, Nov 18 (IANS) As policy wonks at the White House cook up a brief for President Barack Obama’s Nov 24 summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, another team is quietly rustling up plans for his first dinner with military precision.

US officials have been at pains to stress that this plum presidential nod of recognition for India is meant to signal Obama’s desire to take their “strategic relationship” with India, described as one of the most important partnerships of the 21st century, to the next level.

To stress the point, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hand-delivered the state-visit invitation from Obama during her July trip to India.

Responsibility for planning the dinner falls to first lady Michelle Obama and her staff headed by her social secretary, Desiree Rogers. But it’s Samantha Tubman, described as “one-woman army” on White House’s entertaining front who works out the details.

Nearly everyone in government will pitch in from military branches to the State Department. And Tubman, according to the Washington Post, has already drawn up a 10-page document outlining an elaborate arrival ceremony on the White House South like when does the motorcade arrive, or who opens the car doors.

Starting with creating the invitation itself to compiling a guest list, a whole lot of other things too had to be tied up. So were issues like what would be the main course, what would be for dinner and which wine will go with what.

Flowers must be chosen and arranged just so, along with the seating, place settings and entertainment.

Obama’s first dinner is expected to be the talk of the town, perhaps second only to his inauguration and the parties that followed in terms of celebrity star power and got-to-be-there fever.

Invitations to the first official dinner at the White House are the hottest tickets in town with many Desis, as the Indian community - one of the most affluent and successful immigrant groups in the US - is known as, hoping to get in.

Politico reported that talk-show celebrity Oprah Winfrey might be there. Asia Society president Vishakha N. Desai has confirmed her attendance next week, saying it will mark her third dinner at the White House for a visiting Indian official.

While the White House is declining to comment, people with knowledge of the affair cited by the Wall Street Journal say it could draw between 300 and 400 guests. The White House remains mum on exactly who will be there, saying a guest list will be disclosed on the actual day.

At the dinner for Manmohan Singh back in July 2005, President George W. Bush had less than 150 guests, many of them prominent donors to the Republican Party or the heads of companies from Infosys Technologies to Ethan Allen Inc.

The Bush dinner for Manmohan Singh also tried to nod to the guest of honour’s homeland. The saffron tablecloths were topped with trumpeting elephants made of flowers, a convenient meeting of the Republican party symbol with an important animal in Indian culture. Among other fare, the Bushes served basmati rice and a slew of ice creams, from cashew to chocolate-cardamom.

President Clinton invited 700 people over for dinner with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the last and largest such banquet of his presidency. The guest list included the late NASA astronaut Kalpana Chawla and celebrities such as tennis player Vijay Amritraj and model Christie Brinkley.

That dinner featured desi hints with Darjeeling tea, a pea and cilantro soup, and a dessert spread with fruits such as mango and litchis included, according to one account.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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