Sen. Orrin Hatch Sends Letter to White House, Asking Trump to Host Diwali Celebration

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At the behest of the Republican Hindu Coalition, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Sept. 26, urging the Trump administration to continue the tradition of celebrating Diwali at the White House.

In 2009, former President Barack Obama became the first president to participate in Diwali celebrations at the White House. The following year, the Obamas celebrated Diwali in India during the president’s first official visit to the country. Diwali celebrations at the White House continued throughout Obama's tenure.

Indian American businessman and political activist Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar – founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition – told India-West that Hatch signed the letter to Kelly with the support of several Senate members and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. Kumar said Bannon was “a great supporter of the Hindu community.”

“The president has a very tight schedule, and his time right now is focused on tax reform, but hopefully he can spend some time to celebrate Diwali,” said Kumar, who founded the RHC in 2016 to lend political and financial support to Trump’s presidential campaign.

The RHC itself sent a formal invitation to Trump Sept. 1, requesting a Diwali celebration on Oct. 18 or 19 at the White House, followed by a rally in Chicago Oct. 21 or 22.

Kumar envisioned the White House festooned in traditional Diwali decorations, and a celebration with about 200 people present. Plans for a larger celebration –with 10,000 people and Trump in tow – at the Sears Center near Chicago, Illinois, are also being formulated, said Kumar.

“Trump declared very loudly during his campaign that Indians would have a best friend in the White House if he was elected. We want our best friend to celebrate this holiday with us,” Kumar told India-West.

As of press time Sept. 28, the White House had not confirmed whether it would host a Diwali celebration.

In his letter to Kelly – a copy of which was obtained by India-West – Hatch said: “I am eager to help my Hindu and Indian American friends because they are among the most supportive groups in my ongoing effort to reform the tax code and restructure the H-1B program.”

In a sweeping overstatement, Hatch said: “In the recent election, with the support of the Republican Hindu Coalition – and thanks to the leadership of Shalli Kumar – the Hindu American community voted Republican for the first time in history.”

In fact, Indian Americans overwhelmingly voted Democrat this year. During the 1980s and 1990s, newly-enfranchised Indian American voters tended to vote for conservative candidates who supported traditional family values.

“The Hindu and Indian American community is not only critical to the future of the Republican Party, it is also representative of all that is right and good in the American immigrant experience,” wrote Hatch in the letter, adding: “This emerging minority group continues to distinguish itself by embracing the best of our nation’s values.”

“I believe our friends in the Hindu American community should be celebrated for their many contributions to our society,” wrote the senator.