U.S. Sikh leader Lobbies President Bush and Manmohan Singh for Sikh issues at White House State
Drs. Rajwant Singh and Balvinder Kaur with President Bush
Washington DC - Dr. Rajwant Singh, the only Sikh representative invited with his spouse Dr. Balvinder Kaur at the State Dinner hosted in honor of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House, used the opportunity to lobby President Bush, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and several key members for of the Bush cabinet on the issues affecting Sikhs. During the reception preceding the dinner, Dr. Rajwant Singh met Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and urged him to allow the Sikhs to serve in the U. S. Armed Forces with their turban and beard. Secretary Rumsfeld expressed his surprise and said, "I had never thought of this issue. Sikhs have served India exceptionally and valiantly and I am confident that they would do so for the U.S. as well". He took note of this conversation and promised Dr. Rajwant Singh that he would get back to him soon. He also had a conversation with Vice-President Cheney on the same issue.
Dr. Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, reminded President Bush of his promise to look into the possibility of Sikhs in the U.S. Army to which the President said, "Did you talk to Secretary Rumsfeld tonight? After Dr. Singh told him of his conversation with Rumsfeld, Bush said, "Give me another chance and I will follow up on this."
Drs. Rajwant Singh and Balvinder Kaur also met with Dr. Manmohan Singh and Gursharan Kaur with Sikh greetings of "Sat Sri Akaal". Dr. Rajwant Singh held Manmohan Singh's hand and prayed for him while the Bushes were attentively listening. Bush responded to this conversation between the Singhs and commented to Dr. Rajwant Singh and said, "I am glad you came." Laura Bush too thanked the Singh and Kaur for attending the State Dinner, only the fifth formal dinner of the Bush administration.
Dr. Manmohan SIngh with Drs. Rajwant Singh and Balvinder Kaur
Dr. Rajwant Singh also conferred with Dr. Manmohan Singh about the turban issue in France during a private moment at the State dinner. Dr. Manmohan Singh shared that during his recent meeting with French President Jacque Chirac at the G8 meeting, he took up this issue with him.
Dr. Rajwant Singh also talked in detail with Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, about the difficulties faced by the Sikhs in the West in wake of the 9/11 and the recent bombings in London. He asked for more support from the Government of India on mistaken identity problems in America and in Europe. He also discussed issues on improving the Punjab economy and how NRI Sikhs can help and contribute.
Dr. Rajwant Singh was seated in the center of the Lincoln Room of the White House on the table for dinner with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh, Indian Industrialist Rattan Tata, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Andrea Immelt, wife of the head of General Electric Co. Dr. Balvinder Kaur, a psychiatrist, was seated on the table with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Laura Bush, Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank President, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Senator Richard Lugar, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Both Dr. Singh and Dr. Kaur had a fruitful discussion with the other guests at their tables. These tables were in front of the room next to the table on which Bush and Gursharan Kaur were seated. Dr. Kaur thanked Laura Bush and said, "Thank you for the delicious food, lovely acoustics, and wonderful company". The tables in the State Dining Room were covered in saffron-colored silk with green mums and hot pink roses shaped into an elephant and when asked whether the elephant represented the Republicans to which Laura Bush replied with laughter, "It was an Indian Republican." Paul Wolfowitz commented to Dr. Kaur about the demeanor of Manmohan Singh and said, "Manmohan Singh reminds me of the quotation of Nelson Mandela that – It does not matter who gets the credit, as long as the job gets done."
Dr. Singh and his wife and Dick Cheney and Lynn Cheney
In a black tie dinner, Dr. Rajwant Singh was dressed in a Black tuxedo and Red turban and Dr. Balvinder Kaur dressed in a Black and turquoise embroidered Punjabi Suit with Chooridar attracted the attention of the 60 couples who were appropriately attired for the occasion. Although earlier in the day President Bush had called it a "little family dinner," this black-tie affair for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first big White House social event in nearly two years to honor a head of government, and it included all the traditional frills of a state occasion.
The guests of honor and the hot summer evening inspired the most colorful attire seen at the White House in many years. The first lady wore a yellow silk chiffon gown by Bill Blass printed with delicate orange flowers. Dr. Manmohan Singh's wife, Gursharan Kaur, wore a traditional sari in black with red trim. Other women took the opportunity to dress in vibrant traditional dress or India-inspired patterns and colors.
Dr. Rajwant Singh commented, "It was an honor to be invited to this State Dinner, especially for Manmohan Singh, a man for whom I have deep respect and admiration". Dr. Kaur said, "It was indeed a memorable experience and delight to be in the company of an inspirational man like Dr. Manmohan Singh. I felt a sense of deep pride and joy that Dr. Singh is the Prime Minister of India."
After dinner, the party moved to the East Room to be joined by 126 more guests invited to sit in for the after-dinner entertainment by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. This portion of the evening was, for the first time at an official dinner, closed to any news coverage, and the names of the after-dinner crowd were not released.
The dinner guest list was released by the White House the next day which included many prominent Indian Americans including Amar Bose of the Bose Corp, Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen Inc., Raj Vattikuti, President and CEO of Covansys Corp., and Indra Nooyi, President and CFO of PepsiCo, Inc.