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Some prominent Indian Americans not invited to state dinner

Sorry, Preet Bharara, you weren't invited.
Sorry, Preet Bharara, you weren't invited. (Daniel Acker - Bloomberg)
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By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sant Singh Chatwal, an Indian hotelier and Democratic donor, noticed a glaring difference between Tuesday night's state dinner in honor of the Indian prime minister and the one he attended in honor of the Indian prime minister back in 2000.

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"There were a lot more Indian Americans there last time," Chatwal said, referring to the Clinton administration's outgoing bash, a much larger affair. This year, he said, there seemed to be "mostly White House staffers."

"The Honorable (Mr.) David Axelrod"? Sure. But "the Honorable (Ms.) Alyssa Mastromonaco, White House Office of Scheduling," the ousted counsel Greg Craig and well more than a dozen other White House staffers? Did the preponderance of White House assistants and staffers on the list cause deserving Indian Americans to get bumped on their big night?

As with any party, the guest list is a finite document, and director M. Night Shyamalan, actor-activist Kalpen Modi, CNN's Sanjay Gupta, even Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (a potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate) all made the cut. But omissions included some of the nation's most prominent Indian Americans.

For example, Preet Bharara, the newly named U.S. attorney in Manhattan, did not receive an invitation. Bharara, a former top legal aide to Sen. Chuck Schumer, is the top prosecutor in the district that will try Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Kumar Barve, the Democratic majority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, also did not attend. Asked whether he had received an invitation, Barve responded: "You'd think! Given that I am the longest-serving Indian American elected official in U.S. history -- and an early supporter of Obama."

Barve said the White House had asked him to come to an earlier opening ceremony, but he declined, saying he had a prior business engagement.

Surprising many people in the Indian American community was the apparent snub of Neera Tanden, a health-care policy expert at the Department of Health and Human Services who served as Hillary Clinton's policy director in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Barve called Tanden's absence "odd."

Huma Abedin, a senior adviser and longtime traveling aide to Clinton, also did not receive an invitation, although she is half-Indian, on her father's side. She attended a luncheon with Clinton and Vice President Biden earlier in the day, though.

Chatwal said he wasn't complaining. He said he enjoyed his seat next to Indian industrialists and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and appreciated the balance of American and Indian officials.

And some non-Indian attendees assumed the roles of Indian ambassadors.


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