Washington: President Donald Trump on Tuesday said US' relationship with India can act as a "bulwark" for freedom, prosperity and peace as he celebrated Diwali in the White House along with eminent Indian-Americans.
It is the second consecutive year that President Trump has celebrated the largest festival of India and Indian Americans in the White House.
Trump said he was thrilled to celebrate Diwali at the White House.
"I'm honoured to host this beautiful ceremony at the White House. Very, very special people. We're gathered today to celebrate a very special holiday observed by Buddhist, Sikhs and Jains throughout the United States and around the world.
"This ceremony signifies the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil. It is a jubilant occasion that brings loved ones, neighbours, and communities closer together," Trump said before lighting the ceremonial diya in the historic Roosevelt Room of the White House.
He said the shining lights remind people to "seek wisdom, to give thanks, and to always cherish and love the ones who grace our lives.
"Our nation is blessed to be home to millions of hardworking citizens of Indian and South East Asian heritage to enrich our country in countless ways. Together we are one proud American family. Do we agree with that? I think so. I think we do. Right? Better, believe it," he said.
"India is the world's largest democracy, and the relationship between our two countries can act as a bulwark for freedom, prosperity, and peace," Trump said, amidst China flexing its military muscles in the strategic Indo-Pacific region.
He said the United States has deep ties with India and he was grateful for his friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"Modi is my friend and now her (Ivanka) friend and has great respect for India and the Indian people that I can say," said the US President as he introduced his daughter to the audience, who was present in the room.
"Absolutely," replied Ivanka, who had visited India last year. She was the first top official of the Trump administration to travel to India to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad in November last year.
Trump also touched upon the ongoing negotiations between the US and India on a trade deal but indicated that the talks were moving though it was tough.
"We're trying very hard to make better trade deals with India. But, they're very good traders. They're very good negotiators. You would say right. The best. So we're working. And it's moving along," Trump said.
Along with nearly two dozen top Indian American officials of his Administration, President Trump invited the Indian Ambassador to the US, Navtej Singh Sarna, his wife Dr Avina Sarna, and his special assistant Pratik Mathur to be present during the White House Diwali celebrations.
Sarna in his brief remarks thanks the President for the great honour for India and the Indian community.
"They feel very welcome here and so integrated with the American society," he said.
"I think, we are looking at one of the best times we ever had in India-US relationship," Sarna said, which was agreed by Trump. "I think, that's true. Very close, closer than ever before," said the US President.
In his remarks, Trump also welcomed senior Indian- American officials gathered at the White House for Diwali celebrations.
"As we light the Diya in the White House we are joined by in a fellowship with all of those who light lamps in their own home, cities and places of worship. America is a land of faith and we are truly fortunate to have these wonderful traditions woven into the tapestry of our national life. And that is true," he said.
Trump said Americans of Indian and South East Asian heritage have done an incredible job and identified several of them by name including the chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai; Manisha Singh, Acting Under Secretary of the Department of State; Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services; Uttam Dhillon, Acting Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration; Neil Chatterjee, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Raj Shah, the Deputy White House Press Secretary.
The first White House Diwali celebrations was held in 2003 under the then US President George W Bush, who never attended the celebrations in person. A senior administration official represented him. It was mostly held in the India Treaty Room of Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex.
Since 2003, Diwali celebrations at the White House has become an annual tradition. In 2009, President Barack Obama lighted the ceremonial lamp in the East room of the White House.
In 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated Diwali in the East Room. Immediately before the celebrations, she participated in a Bollywood dance with local students in the State Dining Room. In 2016, President Barack Obama celebrated Diwali in the Oval Office with a group of Indian Americans officials from his administration.
In 2017 President Trump celebrated his first Diwali in the Oval Office with Ambassador Nikki Haley, senior officials from his administration and a small group of Indian Americans.
Over the years, it is being celebrated by the Indian Americans in Pentagon and the State Department. For the past several years, Diwali is also being celebrated at the US Capitol by Rep and Senators, being hosted by India Caucus.