Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fast During White House
Minister's Visit to U.S. Coincides With Strict Religious Fast, Posing Etiquette
MCCAIN NELSON and
Sept. 25, 2014 5:52
During his visit to the U.S., Indian
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has plans for a private dinner with President Barack Obama and lunch with Vice President Joe Biden. There's one complication. He won't
Mr. Modi arrives Friday in the middle
of a strict nine-day religious fast, raising a delicate question for the White
House: How do you host a dinner for a foreign leader who is forgoing
Such visits are meticulously
choreographed, with months of planning and entire dossiers devoted to guests'
dietary restrictions and religious beliefs. An extended fast is an unusual
challenge, said Walter Scheib, a former longtime White House executive chef, who
said he couldn't recall a similar situation.
Every leader "has different concerns,
from the prosaic, such as I don't eat garlic, to this one—I don't eat," Mr.
Scheib said. While he noted that the White House is adroit when it comes to
etiquette, the arrangement at dinner has the potential to be slightly awkward.
"It's very bad form to sit in front of fasting guests and eat heartily," he
said. "It's just not polite."
Administration officials have been
tight-lipped about what, if anything, the president and vice president will eat
during meals with Mr. Modi. During the nine days of Navratri, a Hindu festival,
the menu for the prime minister consists only of water and perhaps a bit of lime
"No food, no juices, no substitutes,"
said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata
The prime minister has been observing
the fast for 40 years and it doesn't affect his energy levels or his work, Mr.
Kohli said. This five-day trip could test that proposition. Mr. Modi has an
ambitious schedule encompassing nearly three dozen engagements in Washington,
D.C., and New York, including addressing the United Nations General Assembly on
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