Washington: Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the stellar achievements of Indian-Americans in his remarks at the state dinner in which he had his high-profile guests often in laughter.
Both President Joe Biden and Modi regaled their guests with some light moments while also being generous to each other, with the prime minister ending his speech with a toast to his wonderful hosts, including first lady Jill Biden, and the bond between the two countries.
With Modi having a busy day attending several events, he said he had forgotten the count of speeches he made on Thursday.
Apparently referring to South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol who surprised guests by singing a song during a similar state dinner hosted for him in April, Modi said Biden’s hospitality has moved his guests to sing, evoking laughter from the guests. He then wished that he too had the singing talent that “I could have also sung a song.”
Modi recalled that during a dinner hosted for him in 2014, he could not eat anything as he was on a Navratri fast while Biden, then vice-president, often enquired with concern that if there is an urging he can eat during the fast.
“Your wish to feed me is now being fulfilled,” Modi said.
In his comments, Biden said light-heartedly that both leaders raising the toast do not drink. He dwelt on the two countries’ historic ties and praised the contributions of Indian Americans.
The President also spoke about Rabindranath Tagore’s visit to the US, and his impact on the ideas here and invoked his famous poem ‘Where mind is without fear’.
In his address, Modi said Indian-Americans have played a significant role in the all-round development of the nation they live in and also in strengthening the India-US relationship.
The State Dinner was hosted in his honour by Bidens at the North Lawn of the White House. More than 400 guests were invited for the dinner and they included big names in the tech world and billionaire industrialists such as Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra, Google CEO Sunder Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Apple CEO Tim Cook.
During his address at the dinner, Modi raised a toast for his “wonderful” hosts.
He raised it for good health, prosperity and the pursuit of happiness to liberty, equality and fraternity, and to the ever-lasting bonds of friendship between India and the US.
“With every passing day, Indians and Americans are getting to know each other better. We can pronounce each other’s names correctly. We can understand each other’s accents better. Children in India become Spider-Man on Halloween, and America’s youth are dancing to the tune of ‘Naatu Naatu’,” the prime minister said.
Americans love baseball, but cricket is also becoming popular in the US, he said. “The American team is trying its best to qualify for the Cricket World Cup to be held in India later this year. I wish them good luck and success,” the prime minister said.
Modi told Biden that he has gathered a group of exceptionally talented and remarkable people tonight.
“I must commend you for that. These people symbolise so much about India-US relations, our energy, our dynamism and our nation,” he said.
“Indian Americans have come a long way in the US. They are proud of India’s values, democratic traditions and culture and have always found a respectful place in America’s melting pot. Indian Americans have played a significant role in further strengthening the inclusive society and economy of the US,” Prime Minister Modi said.
“Be it hospitals or hotels, universities or research labs, gas stations or logistics management, they are making their mark everywhere,” the prime minister said.
Modi spoke in Hindi with the speech being translated to English.
President Biden in his remarks said the bonds between India and the US stretch back to America’s earliest days.
“In 1792, our first president, George Washington, established one of the first consulates in Calcutta, a hub of commerce and culture…,” he said.
Biden said there are reasons the two democracies endure, allow and reflect to renew generation after generation.
“I see in my visit to India. I see in the diaspora here in America, in the arts, education, in media, law, medicine, science and businesses of every size, in Spelling Bee champions, and even in cricket clubs across the country, including back in my home state of Delaware and a record number of Indian-Americans in Congress who are here tonight,” the president said.
Prime Minister Modi is visiting the US from June 21-24 at the invitation of President Biden and the First Lady.
The guest list also included human rights activist Martin Luther King III, tennis legend Billie Jean King, filmmaker M Night Shyamalan, fashion designer Ralph Lauren, Grammy award winner Joshua Bell and entrepreneur Frank Islam.
Indian-American lawmakers on the list were Pramila Jayapal, Shri Thanedar, Ro Khanna, Ami Bera and Raja Krishnamoorthi.
Members of the Biden family at the dinner included Hunter Biden, Ashley Biden, James Biden and Naomi Biden Neal.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who will host a luncheon for Prime Minister Modi on Friday, was also present.
India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar attended the dinner along with US diplomats and members of the Biden administration.