The big White House dinner on Thursday night honoring India’s Narendra Modi brought together titans of business, fashion, entertainment, and more. Tennis legend Billie Jean King, fashion designer Ralph Lauren, and director M. Night Shyamalan mingled with tech executives from Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
As he arrived, Shyamalan bounded past reporters and said it was “lovely” to be at the White House. Lauren disclosed that he had created Jill Biden’s off-the-shoulder green gown specifically for the event, describing her look as “chic and elegant.” As part of the entertainment after dinner, violinist Joshua Bell commented that the evening was a “little different than anything I’ve done before.”
He reported, “I’ll skip out and practice for half an hour” during dinner.
Those who attended the eye-catching event, which featured a guest list of about 400 names heavy on prominent Indian Americans, were mostly dressed in saris and sequins. Both party leaders were included, most notably House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Notable attendees included social media personality Jay Shetty, prominent Democratic contributors like Florida attorney John Morgan, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King III. Tim Cook of Apple, Sundar Pichai of Google, and Satya Nadella of Microsoft were among the CEOs present.
To satisfy the prime minister’s vegetarianism, a plant-based menu featuring millet, mushrooms, and strawberry shortcake was served to the guests. Roast sea bass could be ordered for those who wanted something more.
President Joe Biden sent Prime Minister Modi the administration’s third invitation for a state visit, despite their stark disagreements over human rights and India’s position on Russia’s conflict in Ukraine. Among the high-level diplomatic honors that the United States saves for its closest allies was the state dinner.
Biden hopes that all of the fanfare and attention being showered on Modi—from the thousands of people who flocked to the White House lawn to welcome him in the morning to the elaborate dinner at the end of the day—will strengthen his relationship with the Indian leader.
Traveling in trolley cars, the guests descended to a pavilion set up on the south lawn of the White House, adorned with the green and saffron hues of the Indian flag.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., stated that she was attending despite worries that India’s democracy was regressing and that the 1.4 billion-person country is significant. She added that “we must call out some of the real issues that are threatening the viability of democracy in all of our countries.”
This week, Jayapal organized a group of over 70 lawmakers to write to Biden, pleading with him to bring up concerns about the erosion of press, religious, and political freedoms under Modi’s administration.
Jayapal said earlier to The Associated Press that Modi “has the ability to move India and the people in his party back to the values that we have held so dear as a country.” Jayapal also praised Modi’s leadership abilities.
Ahead of the dinner, Pichai expressed his excitement for “an exciting time for U.S.-India relations.”
In an interview earlier on Thursday, Pichai stated, “I think we have two countries which have a lot of shared foundations, large democratic systems and values.” One area of mutual interest between the two countries, according to him, is technology. Thus, I believe this to be a thrilling opportunity. I’m happy that a bilateral relationship requires a lot of work.”
Chef Nancy Curtis of California was brought in by Jill Biden to assist in the kitchen. The menu, according to plant-based chef Curtis, “showcases the best of American cuisine seasoned with Indian elements and flavors.” She explained that she chose to use millet because India is spearheading a global initiative to recognize the grain.
Dinner included stuffed Portobello mushrooms with saffron risotto, a strawberry shortcake with cardamom and rose syrup, and a salad of marinated millet, corn, and compressed watermelon.
There were saffron-colored floral arrangements that varied from table to table throughout the pavilion, along with lotus flowers, which are indigenous to Asia and are used in Indian design.
The White House and the U.S. Secret Service, which guards the president and the executive mansion, revised their clearance and security protocols as a result of the embarrassing incident.