“Currying” favor with Manmohan and India

I cannot claim credit for the eye-rollingly bad title. It appears that this is the media’s favorite play on words for this occasion. They really get a [spicy] kick out of their cleverness. The Beltway is all atwitter today in preparation for the state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit. Many have quipped, and I agree, that it looks like a big Indian wedding tent has been built on the White House lawn. Like out of Monsoon Wedding:

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The Chef: Marcus Samuelsson of NYC’s Aquavit

The Menu: Top Secret…for now. Samuelsson reportedly did not create the menu, he is just cooking it. Manmohan is vegetarian though so expect there to be several vegetarian offerings. You can follow the latest on the menu @ObamaFoodorama

The Guest List: ~400 titans of the Beltway and Hollywood, including Oprah, AR Rahman, Bobby Jindal, Nancy Pelosi, HRC sans WJC, and…Deepak Chopra. Thus far no sign of Rajan Zed on the invite list. God I hope not. And what about Padma Lakshmi. Who, if not her, will opine on the quality of the food? Er, as long as there are no hamburgers on the menu, I mean.

So what is a state dinner all about anyways? Ken Adelman at WaPo explains:

State dinners are less “symbolic signaling” than “political greasing.” Sure, they indicate who is important – those invited are on the A-List of Washington’s socialite “plum book” – and what is important – cellist Pablo Casals for the Kennedys and Country & Western music for the Bushes. Beyond that, however, relationships are heightened and debts are deepened by State Dinner invitations. That’s more critical, since personal relationships are central to achieving results in politics, as in most endeavors of life. House Speaker Sam Rayburn once quipped that anyone who couldn’t size up another person in five minutes “doesn’t belong in my profession.” That clueless fellow probably doesn’t belong in many other professions, either. [link]

Politico.com has a convenient live feed set up for those that want to follow.Things have not been all that smooth since Obama took office. Indians love getting attention and there hasn’t been enough attention to go around while the U.S. has been dealing with so many other problems:

Just last week, Indians took great offense at two speeches Obama made on his trip to Japan, China and Korea. In Tokyo, Obama gave a speech on the importance of Asia without once mentioning India. And in a joint statement with Chinese Premier Hu Jintao, Indians saw signs of Obama encouraging a larger Chinese role in mediating relations between historical rivals India and Pakistan.

While perhaps inadvertent, such slights suggest “that nobody in the Obama administration is standing up now for India,” said C. Raja Mohan, a professor of South Asian studies currently on a fellowship at the Library of Congress. [link]

If there are any SM readers invited to this (I am sure there must be at least one) we would appreciate you feeding us little tidbits (anonymous is fine). Surely there will be some drama!

The White House is eager to show that, despite what some Indians see as a lack of attention during Obama’s first 10 months, it values Singh’s country as a key partner in dealing with extremists in South Asia, in settling international trade and global warming pacts and in steering the world economy out of turmoil…

Singh, in comments Monday, expressed optimism about the future of the U.S.-Indian relationship, calling for a “strategic partnership of global dimensions.”

The White House acknowledges that the state visit is meant to signal to India the value the administration places on the growing economic and political power. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that Singh’s visit is “a show of respect.” [link]

I request that our readers help me out. If over the next few days you see a particularly interesting photo taken during Prime Minister Singh’s visit, please use the tip line to let me know. The White House’s Flickr feed often contains gems:

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UPDATE: The Menu:

The State Dinner Menu

First Potato and Eggplant Salad White House Arugula with Onion Seed Vinaigrette 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Modus Operandi, Napa

Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cheese 2006 Riesling, Brooks “Ara,” Wilamette Valley, Oregon

Entree Roasted Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney Chick Peas and Okra

or

Green Curry Prawns Caramelized Salsify with smoked Collard Greens and Coconut Aged Basmati 2007 Grenache, Beckmen Vineyards, Santa Ynez, CA

Dessert Pumpkin Pie Tart Pear Tatin Whipped Cream and Caramel Sauce Sparkling Chardonnay, Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia

Petis Fours and Coffee Cashew Brittle Pecan Pralines Passion Fruit and Vanilla Glaces Chocolate-Dipped Fruit

46 thoughts on ““Currying” favor with Manmohan and India

  1. The WH State Dinner is a courtesy extended to low to lower medium importance nations. The most important nations are the ones the President visits in his 1st term in the 1st year of office, next in importance are the nation whose leaders get to meet the President 1-to-1 here there and everywhere. India, for the US is now v.low on the list of priorities somewhere between Burundi and Venezuela, inconsequential but could act up. The current administration sees no role whatsoever for India in any hotspot, geographically or economically. While Manmohan being a realist, and carrying nothing but his nation’s interests at heart always, knows this v.well (his interview with CNN makes this v.clear) will act with the dignity required of his office and the White House. All nations – at least the successful ones – work to achieve their own interests. The US too wrt India is working to further its interests, not India’s. And currently with India counting for little or nothing in the State Dept’s scheme of things, a State Dinner is all that India will get. Quite a few in the Indian press aren’t given to delusions of grandeur and almost everyone has pretty much written this visit off as inconsequential.

  2. and almost everyone has pretty much written this visit off as inconsequential.

    Not the foodies, the fashionistas, or those keeping track of who is at the top of the Washinton power structure!

  3. Things have not been all that smooth since Obama took office. Indians love getting attention and there hasn’t been enough attention to go around while the U.S. has been dealing with so many other problems

    So many problems, indeed. most of them created by this administration. This administration’s foreign policy is a complete joke. Roger Cohen, once an admirer of Obama, is not a fan anymore. The Carter administration was more decisive in dealing with the wrold than the current administration, and that is saying something.

    Indians might want attention but can somehow manage without it. But they definitely don’t need China playing the referee between India and Pakistan. The very same China that helped Pakistan build a nuclear weapon and wants to break India into more “manageable” parts. This is coming from an administration that wants to reset relationships with the outside world and account for cultural sensitivities.

    Cannot wait for 2012.

  4. I request that our readers help me out.

    What, no invite for SM? Even for such an inconsequential todo?

  5. What, no invite for SM? Even for such an inconsequential todo?

    Fear not. I have been on Stubhub.com all morning and think I found a ticket.

  6. The WH State Dinner is a courtesy extended to low to lower medium importance nations

    how do you know this? according to cnn, “An invitation to a state dinner is the most treasured and formal honor a U.S. president can offer to a foreign dignitary, and it’s the most coveted invitation in Washington.”

    also, what about first state dinners.

  7. the jindals will be there. i believe bobby reads this blog and comments under the handle “dr. amonymous”

  8. I have to say, I love the way Singh speaks, softly and confidently…; he just comes across as humble which is a rare trait in politicians but one I think is necessary; I like what he says especially when asked about the differences in China’s and India’s economic growth. His daughter is probably pushing him very left :) .

  9. the jindals will be there.

    I’m sure Bobby and wife will be wondering “why?” ; “why am I invited when the Indian PM visits” considering he’s ‘Bobby” and not Indian or Sikh.

  10. Not really very impressed with the menu, especially the vegetarian entree selections.. It’s posted here. It could have been more innovative. Liked the the Thanksgiving touch in the dessert section.

  11. recent first state dinners include mexico twice (W and Jimmy), the Japanese Emperor (Clinton), and Maggie (reagan). don’t know who Bush I had but this sounds like a significant invite.

  12. Manju@14:

    chocolate dipped jalebis for dessert is a nice touch

    Where did you see chocolate dipped Jalebis ? I only see chocolate dipped fruits. Do you have another link to the menu ?

  13. Where did you see chocolate dipped Jalebis ?

    its right below the Gulab Jamun and whipped cream, zee.

  14. anyone who couldn’t size up another person in five minutes “doesn’t belong in my profession.”

    This makes sense in America, where self-promotion and loudness count as ‘confidence’. Things are different in other parts of the world.

  15. Where did you see chocolate dipped Jalebis ?

    To eat these will be my New Years Resolution for 2010.

  16. this sounds like a significant invite.

    Means you are on top of the second list. Not bad I would say. i always compare India with Sweden, not China or the US or Japan, because that is a better model for India.

  17. i always compare India with Sweden, not China or the US or Japan, because that is a better model for India.

    Nah. India’s destiny should be to strive to blaze a new trail and shine a path for the rest of the developing world to follow since the standard playbook doesn’t seem to be working for large, pluralistic multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious nations in South Asia and Africa.

    There is a lot to learn from other countries but no one model is going to cut it. I have always had a morbid interest in the applicability of the Swiss system of cantonments to an Indian context though.

  18. Means you are on top of the second list

    that certainly isn’t a bad estimation of where India is in the pecking order but the invite suggest something significantly higher. Bush inviting vicente fox signaled a desire for close relations…bush was trying to rewrite the republican party at the time to include Hispanics and free trade was a very important issue. Clinton with japan was at a time when someone wrote: “the cold war is over and japan won.” Reagan-Maggie symbolized the fact that the UK was the US’s closest partner in the cold war and economic liberalization camp. i’m not sure what was going on between Mexico-us during the carter years other than being neighbors and i don’t know who bush I hosted, but they all sound like first teir relationships.

  19. That menu is an insult. Sweden would never be subjected to Roasted Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney Chick Peas and Okra.

  20. That menu is an insult. Sweden would never be subjected to Roasted Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney Chick Peas and Okra.

    Aww, c’mon, it’s not that bad is it? I mean, they have to walk a line between including some items from the guests’ food culture while still flying the Amrikan flag (WH arugula, collard greens, pumpkin pie), and also taking into consideration that some of the guests will be vegetarian.

    And what’s wrong with potatoes? They’re available in delish forms in both India and the US!

  21. i bet this would be the coversation when they got home.

    vite house de vich kee khaya. kuch nahin. bus bharta tey masoor de daal see. o bhi pheeki. hain? bas. tey sveet dish? bas ice cream seegi. hain? aide naal tey saddi daarh tuk geeli nahin hondi. tadi bechara obama enna kamzor hega. sadda te bhukh naalon bura haal ho gaya see. O to accha see bebe ney purse ich parathe tey achaar rakheya seega.

    [Translation: sardarji kvetches about not getting enough to eat, but for the parathas GursharanJi had in her clutch, he was a goner]

  22. Dude, have you ever had or even smelled Swedish food? It’s not fit for human consumption.

    Look at this poster. It says “Vote no on Prohibition because eating traditional Swedish food is impossible without strong spirits. I wish I could say that was a joke, but seriously. If anyone ever offers you lutefisk, force yourself to defy your Desi upbringing and refuse the food. It’s too late for me, but you can still save yourselves.

  23. I too want to know more about these mythical chocolate-dipped jalebis. . .who has the recipe??

    I imagine it’s basically just a jalebi, some chocolate, and a fondue pot.

    Now if you want to know how the jalebi is made then you’re on your own. It’s a secret that neither of my grandmas ever saw fit to pass down.

  24. Now if you want to know how the jalebi is made then you’re on your own. It’s a secret that neither of my grandmas ever saw fit to pass down.

    No it’s the ultimate Uber-Coke recipe. You can have the recipe, even watch the halwai or nani/dadi make the jalebi, just don’t talk to her while she makes it. And then you can try it, and you are guaranteed EPIC FAIL. Jalebi is impossible unless you have a few decades of experience.

  25. I don’t get the Marcus Samuelsson connection? He’s from Ethiopia/Sweden? Where’s Madhur Jaffrey?? And I sure hope Asif Mandvi’s on the invitee list..

  26. No invite for George Allen? I guess you cannot go into a state dinner at the White House unless you have a slight Indian accent.

  27. I’m sure Bobby and wife will be wondering “why?” ; “why am I invited when the Indian PM visits”

    oh the consternation. :-) romba funny.

  28. Aww, c’mon, it’s not that bad is it?

    Ok maybe it’s not thaat bad. In the “i guess i should force this down because everyone will yell at me for being rude to the adorable old auntie if i don’t” way.

  29. God that’s a pretty picture of Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Kaur – just amazing colors and love Mrs. Obama’s dress, though I don’t like it sleeveless.

    No invite for George Allen? snicker :)

    Wish the new ED of White House Initiative on APIs, Kiran Ahuja, would have been on the list; Steven Spielberg and M. Knight Shyalalalalalman will be there.

  30. I know diplomacy is not about appearances, but am I alone in thinking that Mr and Mrs. Manmohan look like gnomes next to the fit and bronzed Obamas.

  31. I thought they looked like nice bunnies! :)

    Also, looks like a lot of the Indians invited to the dinner are married to Firangis, especially the men. What gives, brown girls?

  32. Also, looks like a lot of the Indians invited to the dinner are married to Firangis, especially the men. What gives, brown girls?

    Oh shit! You totally went there didn’t you?

    Better get my flame retardant suit.

  33. “India behaves roughly in the same way with Nepal and Sri Lanka!”

    Include sponsoring terrorism in Sri Lanka (arming, training and funding the LTTE) and riding on the back of the royals in Nepal.

  34. Also, looks like a lot of the Indians invited to the dinner are married to Firangis, especially the men. What gives, brown girls?

    Well, that’s why we had to marry Firangis. Brown girls don’t give.