President Donald Trump celebrated Diwali at the White House Oct. 17, lighting a diya amidst an intimate gathering of Indian American members of his administration and prominent community leaders.
The president was joined by Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai; Vanila Singh, chief medical officer in the office of the assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services; and other South Asian American members of the Trump administration.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka also attended the festivities. Sen. Orrin Hatch, who sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Sept. 26 urging Trump to celebrate Diwali, did not attend the celebration. Hatch sent the letter at the behest of Indian American businessman Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar, founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition. Kumar and his adopted daughter, actress Manasvi Mamgai, stood by Trump’s side as he lit the traditional diya in the Oval Office.
During the 2016 presidential election cycle, Kumar and his wife donated $1 million to Trump’s campaign.
The president gave a brief speech before lighting the diya, recognizing the contributions of the Indian American community.
“Today, I was deeply honored to be joined by so many administration officials and leaders of the Indian American community to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights,” remarked the president.
Trump noted that Diwali is one of the most important celebrations in the Hindu religion, and remarked that the holiday is also celebrated by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains.
“As we do so, we especially remember the people of India, the home of the Hindu faith, who have built the world’s largest democracy. I greatly value my very strong relationship with Prime Minister Modi,” stated Trump.
“Our Indian American neighbors and friends have made incredible contributions to our country – and to the world. You have made extraordinary contributions to art, science, medicine, business and education,” said the president, adding: “America is especially thankful for its many Indian American citizens who serve bravely in our armed forces and as first responders in communities throughout our great land.”
Trump noted that the diya is typically lit by families in their homes. “Today, we proudly celebrate this holiday in the ‘people’s house.’ In so doing, we reaffirm that Indian Americans and Hindu Americans are truly cherished, treasured and beloved members of our great American family,” said the president.
A video of the White House celebration is posted to Trump’s Facebook page.
A whatsapp group text obtained by India-West had members of the community thanking Kumar for initiating the White House celebrations.