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By FROM K.P. NAYAR in Washington

  • Published 26.10.00
Washington, Oct. 26 :    Washington, Oct. 26:  If Indians in the US had queued up tonight in front of White House in the hope of seeing diyas on the mansion's East Wing window sills or hearing some firecrackers go off on the occasion of Diwali, they would have been disappointed. But their disappointment would not have been total. For the first time in America's history, a serving President and First Lady today greeted the Indian-American community and the people of India on the occasion of Diwali. "Diwali presents all of us with an opportunity to reflect on the many ways the talents, history and traditions of the Indian people have contributed to our national life and cultural heritage and to give thanks for the extraordinary diversity that is one of our nation's greatest strengths," President Bill Clinton said in a statement today. "Hillary and I extend best wishes to all for a wonderful celebration." Any hope of a full-scale Diwali celebration in White House with diyas and firecrackers was fuelled by a promise by Clinton in Silicon Valley last month that Diwali would henceforth become one of the many religious and ethnic festivals that are recognised in the White House calendar. The promise followed a remark by Dinesh Sastry - a member of the Democratic Party's National Committee Leadership 2000 Board - that unlike the Hindu festival, Easter, Christmas, Passover and Id were all on the White House calendar. The occasion for the remark was an exclusive fundraiser for the Democrats, attended by 26 people such as Sabeer Bhatia, K.B. Chandrasekhar and other founders of rich Silicon Valley companies. The fundraiser mopped up a whopping one million dollars for the party. In the four weeks since Clinton's promise, a full-scale White House celebration was considered for today, but the uncertainties of the Middle-East crisis, combined with the election campaign schedules of the President and the First Lady, interfered with those plans. In addition, the lingering charges that Clinton and his wife had thrown open White House to political contributors may have tempered the First Couple's enthusiasm for a large-scale Diwali celebration. Indians have emerged as major contributors to the presidential and legislative campaigns this year and the Clintons are keen to avoid any further criticism about their fundraising methods two weeks before the election. Indian-American sources here, however, do not rule out a Diwali event in White House later in November, once the US elections are out of the way. Conveying his "warm greetings to Indian-Americans across our country as you observe the festival of Diwali", Clinton said "this ancient and joyous holiday, with origins in the Hindu faith, reflects both the unity and the rich diversity of the people and culture of India". He added: "It is truly a festival of lights marked by lighting candles and lamps, setting off firecrackers and dressing in vibrant colours. During Diwali, Indians of all ages and backgrounds come together to celebrate life, the triumph of good over evil and the hope for happiness and prosperity that we all share." He said: "America has become home to men and women from countries across the globe, whose skills and perspective have enriched our culture, enhanced our economy and broadened our vision of the world."