Narendra Modi's personal gifts to Barack Obama - Gandhi's Gita, Martin Luther King's memorabilia

In one of the most awaited meets scheduled to take place this year, US President Barack Obama on Monday hosted a private dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was once shunned by America, at the White House.

Narendra Modi's personal gifts to Barack Obama - Gandhi's Gita, Martin Luther King's memorabilia
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Washington: In one of the most awaited meets scheduled to take place this year, US President Barack Obama on Monday hosted a private dinner for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was once shunned by America, at the White House here.

The duo will hold summit level talks on Tuesday to reset stalled India-US relations.

After the dinner, Modi described the meet with Obama as "wonderful", adding the duo discussed a number of issues.

 

In a Facebook post, Modi said: "With President Barack Obama. We had a wonderful meeting and talked about a wide range of issues. Both President Obama and I share a vision for a partnership in which our nations work together for the benefit of the entire humankind."

Earlier, Modi was greeted at the doorstep of the White House by Obama with "Kem Chho" - the Gujarati equivalent of "Hello, how are you". Modi replied, "Thank you very much, Mr President”.

Briefing reporters after the 90-minute meet, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin described the first talks between the two leaders at dinner as "convivial and comforting".

The dinner, with limited guests from each side in the Blue Room of the White House might have a delectable spread of dishes, but the main guest only had warm water as he was observing Navratri fasts. However, Modi told Obama to "please go ahead as normal".

First Lady Michelle Obama did not attend the dinner as she was travelling.

"The Prime Minister did not had anything except for warm water," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akabruddin said.

Knowing President Barack Obama's admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted him a special reprint of the Father of the Nation's interpretation of the Gita​ and some memorabilia associated with the American civil rights leader.

The US President keeps a statue of the Indian freedom leader in his office.

Keeping Obama's great regard for Martin Luther King Jr in mind, Modi brought an All India Radio recording of King's speech in India in 1958. There is also a framed photograph of King at Rajghat besides a small video clip from his 1959 visit to India.

These are Modi's personal gifts to Obama, Akbaruddin said. 

He has also brought some official gifts that would be given at the official bilateral meeting today.

On the issues of discussion during the dinner meeting, Akabruddin said discussions were largely on knowing each other and sharing the initial experiences after they took over.

They shared anecdotes to connect with each other, he said while describing the dinner meeting as a "very successful interaction".

"They did not get to discuss any of the substantive issues. This was a very cordial and comforting conversation where each of them were trying to understand others perspective and they did not get into very substantive discussion which will follow tomorrow," he added.

They agreed to take up more substantive issue tomorrow -- both in restrictive format and in delegation level talks -- but in general the thinking was that there was a lot of goodwill between India and the US for each other, he said.

"There was a feeling that they should try and focus on some big things that they can achieve in a finite time period in the next few years," the spokesperson said.

"There was also a feeling that India-US relationship was among the most important relationships in the world today. And therefore, it was incumbent upon both of them to work towards strengthening and deepening this relationship," he said.

The Prime Minister was asked to outline his vision of what were the issues he faced so far and how he was working on it, the spokesperson said.

"Remarkably some of those things the Prime Minister mentioned seemed to have resonance with President Obama, because he said he had similar concerns when he came in power.”

Giving example of how the two leaders connected, he said Prime Minister told Obama that when he came to Delhi he found that the technological infrastructure in the Indian capital was not even as good as Gujarat to which the US President said he had similar experience.

They both talked about their focus areas of technology and e-governance.

The two leaders have jointly written an editorial in a US newspaper which would be published tomorrow.

Modi also laid out in great details his hopes and aspirations in terms of what was his development vision and how the US can help in achieving that.

There was general understanding that the US and India can work not only in terms of bilateral relations but elsewhere in the world, the spokesperson said, adding in this context they talked about Ebola disease and Afghanistan. These were the two issues that were broadly flagged, he said.

Basically, today's meeting had three major components -connecting with each other, vision for the ties and cooperation in various areas, the spokesperson added.

Set in an informal ambiance, the dinner was the first opportunity for both the leaders to interact with each other.

Both the leaders were joined by 20 attendees at the dinner. The US President was joined by Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Advisor Susan Rice among others.

Modi was accompanied by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Indian Ambassador to the US, S Jaishankar among others. As Obama hosted Modi for dinner, the local Indian-Americans celebrated the Modi-Obama meeting by organising a cultural event and performing "Garbha" dance in front of the White House.

A small group of Kashmir separatists and Sikh separatists also held a protest outside the White House building, but they were far outnumbered by the pro-Modi supporters.

There was an unprecedented level of security in and around the White House and Blair House, the official guest house of the US President, in view of the two recent security breaches.

The Pennsylvania Avenue was closed for most part in the evening and the pro-Modi group and anti-India protesters were pushed far behind when the motorcade crossed the avenue on its way to the White House.

Obama received Modi at the South Gate of the White House and the dinner was held in Blue Room of the President's official residence.

The Blue Room is used for receptions and receiving lines, and is occasionally set for small dinners.

The Prime Minister, who arrived here late afternoon at the Andrew Airforce Base, was received by William Burns, Deputy Secretary of State and other senior officials.

From there, Modi left for the Blair house, the American President's guest house where he will be staying during his Washington trip. Later, he drove to the White House from the Blair guest house for the dinner.

(With Agency inputs)

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