Although a frequent visitor to America, averaging about one trip every year since he became Prime Minister in 2014, Modi’s first ever state visit, centered around a ceremonial reception and banquet at the White House on June 22, will be bookended by other marquee events on June 21 and 23.
Presiden Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are expected to host a intimate private dinner for the Prime Minister on June 21 ahead of the state banquet on June 22, which, according to the US President himself, is now the hottest ticket in America, with the rich, powerful, and famous badgering the White House for an invitation. “You’re causing me a real problem. Everyone in the whole country wants to come. I have run out of tickets.” Biden said only half-jokingly to Modi in the sidelines of the G7 summit in Hiroshima last month.
White House officials acknowledge they are deluged with requests, as is the Indian Embassy, which is directing all inquiries to the White House since it is the host. The guest list, which will be announced only on the eve of the dinner, is being tightly controlled and vetted, particularly after a security breach in 2009 when a Virginia couple managed to gatecrash into President Obama’s state dinner for then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Modi will arrive in Washington after landing in New York where he will participate in the International Yoga Day at the United Nations, with New Delhi asserting its cultural proprietorship of the practice in recent years. A ceremonial reception with the all the bells and whistles befitting a state visit will be rolled out at the White House for the Indian Prime Minister, who surprisingly will be staying at a hotel next door rather than at Blair House, which is the standard venue for dignitaries during state visits.
Sources said Blair House, a historic red brick building across from the White House, where Prime Minister Modi has stayed before during an official visit, has limitations that would circumscribe the large Indian delegation and its many engagements.
Those who don’t make the cut for the state dinner at the White House will have at least three other opportunities to engage with India’s Prime Minister: A CEOs meeting at the rooftop off the Kennedy Center to be hosted by the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), a luncheon meeting at the State Department hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and an Indian-American community reception in the Ronald Reagan building which is expected to be a rousing 5000-people finale before Modi flies out.
Officials on both sides say it won’t just be pomp, ceremony, and celebration during the visit; there will be plenty of business conducted, with substantial announcements in the defense and people-centric high tech areas. “The ceremonial and substantive part of the state visit will fully complement each other and will be unparalleled,” India’s ambassador to the US Taranjit Sandhu said.
Sandhu himself has had the distinction of having served in the United States four times: first as a young political officer from 1997 to 2000, then at the Permanent Mission of India to United Nations from July 2005 to February 2009; as the Deputy Chief of Mission in Washington DC from July 2013 to January 2017, and finally a career topping finale as India’s ambassador to the United States from February 2020 to date.