The Invitation That Everyone Wants: PM Modi to Attend State Dinner in US, What Does it Signify?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a rousing welcome as he arrived in New York on Tuesday on the first leg of his maiden state visit to the US during which he will lead the celebrations of the International Day of Yoga at the United Nations Headquarters and hold bilateral talks with President Joe Biden in Washington.

Modi is visiting the US from June 21-24 at the invitation of President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, who will host him at a state dinner on June 22.

What is a State Dinner?

A state dinner at the White House is a fancy and important event held to honor a visiting leader or monarch from another country, according to a report by the White House Historical Association.

It’s part of an official visit and gives the president and first lady a chance to show respect and hospitality to the guest and their spouse. It’s a way of being friendly and welcoming, similar to sharing a meal with friends to strengthen the friendship. The dinner also showcases the power and influence of different nations. During the dinner, the leaders give formal toasts, which provide an important platform for continuing serious discussions that started earlier in the day.

In the early 1800s, dinners honoring the president’s cabinet, Congress, or other important people were also called state dinners, even if they didn’t involve foreign representatives. During that time, Washington, D.C. was a small and isolated city, with only a few officials and their families living there. Large receptions and dinners were rare due to the city’s isolated nature, the report says.

President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy host a State Dinner at the White House in honor of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter Indira Gandhi of India, November 7, 1961. ( via John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/NARA)

As time went on, the capital city grew and changed. In the 19th century, a series of state dinners were held every winter to honor Congress, the Supreme Court, and members of the diplomatic community. In recent times, the term “State Dinner” specifically refers to a dinner hosted by the president to honor a foreign head of state as the main guest. The first ruling monarch to attend a State Dinner at the White House was King Kalakaua of Hawai’i in 1874, hosted by President Ulysses S. Grant and First Lady Julia Grant.

In 1902, the restoration of the White House provided a more suitable setting for official events. With the construction of the West Wing and the remodeling of the mansion’s state rooms in a Neoclassical style, President Theodore Roosevelt had a perfect setting that represented America’s growing power and influence. During World War I, there were few and simple dinners at the White House, and even the traditional New Year’s reception was canceled in 1918. State Dinners during World War II continued, but with simpler food, the report explains. Franklin Roosevelt changed the guest list approach, allowing guests with purposes other than social to attend. From 1948 to 1952, while the White House underwent reconstruction, President Harry S. Truman lived at Blair House, and State Dinners were held in local hotels.

The First Lady Plays a Crucial Role

Even today, presidents and first ladies play a key role in shaping the style of their administration’s entertainment. The first lady and her team are responsible for carefully planning and organizing the elaborate state dinner. This involves creating invitations and guest lists, designing menus, arranging flowers and table settings, deciding seating arrangements, and organizing entertainment for the evening.

The first lady works closely with her social secretary, the executive residence staff, and the Department of State to coordinate every detail of this very special event, the report states.

The Invitation that Everyone Wants

Amidst all the social excitement, the White House Historic Association explains, the government’s crucial work continues behind the scenes. This involves gathering information, exchanging opinions, forming influential connections, and maintaining a certain image. That’s why receiving an invitation to the White House is highly significant and desired in the country’s bustling social circles, the report says.

Which Other Indian Leaders Have Attended State Dinners?

Several Indian leaders have had the honor of attending state dinners in the United States. Among them, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru attended a state dinner hosted by President John F. Kennedy in 1961. This historic event symbolized the growing relationship between the two countries.

Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India, also attended a state dinner hosted by President Richard Nixon in 1971. Her presence highlighted the importance of bilateral cooperation and diplomacy. Among other Prime Ministers who have attended state dinners are former PMs Manmohan Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. President Ram Nath Kovind also attended a state dinner hosted by President Donald Trump in June 2019.

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