MODI COMES TO THE WHITE HOUSE - The Wall Street Journal
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Fast During White House Dinner
Indian Prime Minister's Visit to U.S. Coincides With Strict Religious Fast, Posing Etiquette Challenge
Sept. 25, 2014 5:52 p.m. ET
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 be eating.
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 food?
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 water.
"No food, no juices, no substitutes," said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Mr. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party.
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 Saturday.
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