President Obama in India: Arrival, Rajghat and Talks over Tea

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosting US President Barack Obama over tea

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New Delhi – US President Barack Obama on Sunday began his second trip to India – a first for a US president – with breakthrough agreements on defense and hibernating nuclear deal as both President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looked visibly enjoying each other’s company throughout the first day of the three day visit.


Air Force One touched down at 9:35 am local time in New Delhi and ‎Modi met Obamas at the foot of the AF One stairs wearing a gold kurta. Obama and First Lady Mitchele Obama deplaned holding hands and shook hands with Modi and the whole delegation. Obama gave Modi a long handshake, continuing to clasp hands and smile as they talked for a minute. Modi, the Obamas and a few of the greeters then stood in a half circle and waved at a phalanx of news cameras and what appeared to be official photographers. ‎The other greeters with Modi were: Air Commodore CK Kumar, VM – Indian Air Force Palam Base Commander; Piyush Goyal – Indian Minister Accompanying; Sujatha Singh – Foreign Secretary; S Jaishankar – Indian Ambassador to the US; Vinay M Kwatra – Indian Joint Secretary (AMS), MEA; Captain Timothy Maricle – US Defense Attaché; Jaideep Mazumdar – Indian Chief of Protocol, US Ambassador Richard Verma and Melineh Verma – US Ambassador to India Spouse.


On the way to Rajghat, the site where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, the motorcade went through a large area of government buildings. The roads are closed and no spectators were present but your pooler saw armed soldiers and police guarding the buildings.

Obama took his shoes off and was seen wearing socks. A group of people carried a large wreath of flowers for him. He helped place it on the memorial and then paused for a moment. He then walked slowly around the memorial. He threw rose petals on the memorial. The whole thing took just minutes.

Obama then walked to another courtyard, where he was to plant a sapling. The sapling was already planted, though, so he held the tree straight and knelt down and spread dirt around it with a small shovel. He then watered the tree with a silver pitcher. Journalists could hear him saying repeatedly “big and strong.”

Obama, who was accompanied by the Indian government minister, looked toward the media, which included a large contingent of Indian journalists, and said “thank you very much.”

The First Lady was not present. Not was the Indian president or prime minister. Obama started walking toward the motorcade at 12:54 pm. Obama also paid his respects at Rajghat when he was in India in 2010.

Raj Ghat (Mahatma Gandhi Memorial): Raj Ghat literally means “Royal Steps.” Raj Ghat is the location where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. Last rites were performed for Gandhi here on January 31, 1948, the day after his assassination. The site includes a black stone memorial platform inscribed with Gandhi’s last words, “Hey Ram” (“Oh God.”)

President Obama planted a Bodhi tree near the trees planted by Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. A number of trees are labeled near the Raj Ghat complex. These trees were planted by various dignitaries who have visited Raj Ghat, including Presidents Eisenhower, Clinton, and George W. Bush.


At the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the presidential palace, the President Obama’s limo was led up a long pathway, two or three football fields long, by several dozen red-clad military officials riding on horses.At the end of it was the courtyard to the palace,where Obama climbed out, stood under a red tent and held his hand over his heart as a military band played the American national anthem. A military official, a woman, presented the large honor contingent of the branches of the Indian military, then escorted him with wide swinging arm motions as Obama walked the length of the column to review them. At the end of it, he joined the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Modi to shake hands with several dignitaries.

He passed very close to the White House journalists and to a group of Indian journalists, and responded to a couple of questions from the Indian press as he posed for the cameras.

Asked about the reception thus far, he said, “It’s hard to match this one.” Asked if he was honored by the invitation to be there, he said, “It is a great honor and we are so grateful for the extraordinary hospitality.”

The Rashtrapati Bhavan, “Presidential Residence,” was built by the British as the home of the Viceroy following the 1910 decision to shift the capital of British India from Calcutta to Delhi. British architects Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi’s city planner, and Herbert Baker, designed the palace in 1912 in Edwardian Baroque style with colors and details inspired by Indian architecture.

In 2014 President Mukherjee and Prime Minister Modi opened a museum highlighting the history of the building and India’s Presidency in the basement.


At the ‎Hyderabad house, Obama stepped inside a small foyer with Modi and paused to admire a grey, rough-hewn statue of the deity Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva. They smiled and waved at the White House journalists. Modi changed into a pin-striped suit of a Nehru style.

Soon, they walked through a courtyard, and stopped to wave at some camera crews. They stepped into a room off the courtyard and went to sit down in a pair of wing chairs. Before they sat, though, Modi presented Obama with a large white envelope that held what he said was “a piece of history,” a copy of a 1950 telegram from Secretary of State Dean Acheson to the head of India’s constitutional assembly. In it, an aide to Modi said later, Acheson wishes the assembly well and says that their deliberations will be watched by “freedom-loving people throughout the entire world.”

As they took their seats, the long cotton curtains covering the doors to the courtyard fluttered in a cool breeze. The press outside could hear the sound of their voices as they talked, though the words were indistinct.

After an hour of meeting, President Obama and PM Modi emerged for a break, walking around the trim gardens of the Hyderabad house. Modi walked Obama to a spot next to a large terra cotta fountain in the middle of four reflecting pools dotted with lily pads with pink and green blooms. There, they paused and turned face to face, and Obama gestured with both hands while making a point. Then they walked to a far point in the garden and talked for a while, away from cameras and reporters, their backs turned to us. It didn’t look like the usual walk and talk for cameras. They sat for tea under a canopy.


The tea time went on for ten or fifteen minutes. Modi poured, and then the two men sat, elbows on knees, sipping from small white cups and talking intently about something. Obama did some nodding, but mostly they took turns talking and gesturing with their hands.

When they got done, they walked the square around the fountain, passing close to the pool standing overhead on a balcony. Modi was telling Obama something, and at one point Obama threw back his head and laughed. Around this point it’s likely the leaders were aware of the White House journalists’ presence, because somebody on the balcony chose to laugh loudly around this time, but for most of the conversation they seemed oblivious to the press.

The Hyderabad House was constructed in the 1920s for the last hereditary ruler of Hyderabad, Hyderabad House was gifted to the Indian government at the time of India’s independence in 1947. It currently serves as the state guesthouse for the Indian Prime Minister.

Three US Presidents have visited Hyderabad House during trips to India: President Bill Clinton (to meet Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in March of 2000), President George W. Bush (to meet Prime Minister Singh in March of 2006), and President Obama (to meet Prime Minister Singh in November of 2010). Hyderabad House blends predominantly European architectural features with Mughal (Muslim) motifs.

Obama and Modi walked down the hall of Hyderabad House and the two entered a conference room where US and Indian delegations were already seated ready for an expanded meeting.

Obama and Modi were seated across from each other at very long table. They sat in cream colored chairs. Gold mirrors adorned the walls and a gold chandelier hung from the ceiling.

Modi spoke through a translator, which was very difficult to understand over the camera. He welcomed Obama at least twice and remarked on the speed that Obama was working today and said he was confident of a good outcome to their talks. “We’re come together again after a very short time.,” said Modi.

Other US officials spotted in the room: Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, Mike Froman, Jen Palmieri.

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