On Nov. 13, US president Donald Trump hosted Diwali celebrations at the White House, a tradition that began with his predecessor Barack Obama in 2009.
However, in his Tweet marking the event, Trump called the Hindu festival of lights a “holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains”—with no mention of Hindus at all.
While people of other faiths certainly celebrate Diwali in India and around the world, it’s deeply rooted in the Hindu religion, which has over 1.08 billion adherents, accounting for about 15% of the world’s population. The festival is marked by the lighting of diyas (earthen lamps) and the bursting of firecrackers to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
This year, Diwali fell on Nov. 07 and 08, but in the US, home to a big Indian and Indian-origin population, the celebrations began in advance, with shops selling lights and trinkets, and many pujas and performances lined up.
Soon after his first tweet, Trump posted another one, this time making a reference to the “Hindu” festival of lights, which he said he celebrated along with “[v]ery, very special people.”
But the egregious omission in the first tweet was duly noted.
In his remarks at the event, which again described the holiday as one observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains, he did acknowledge the contributions of “hardworking citizens of Indian and Southeast Asian heritage,” adding that “together, we are one proud American family.”
He also referenced several Indian-origin members of his administration, including Ajit Pai, chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission, and Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, who attended the Diwali celebrations.
Trump has received support from right-wing members of the Hindu community, both in the US and even in India, where one Hindu nationalist organisation even prayed for his victory in the presidential elections. However, his administration has cracked down heavily on immigration into the US, targeting the H-1B visa programme in particular, which has for long been the favoured route for Indians to move to the US.