When people across India would be celebrating the festival of lights on Friday evening, US President Barack Obama would board Air Force One on his maiden trip to the country, which he says is a chance to honour Mahatma Gandhi's memory, and learn more about modern India.
Accompanied by First Lady, Michelle, Obama, in fact, himself would be celebrating the festival of lights with school children in Mumbai his first stop on his three-day India trip that would also take him to New Delhi. "To those celebrating Diwali in India, I look forward to visiting you over the next few days. And to all those who will celebrate this joyous occasion on Friday, I wish you, your families and loved ones Happy Diwali and 'Saal Mubarak'," Obama said in his Diwali greetings.
Obama would be boarding Air Force One from Andrews Force Base.
Even though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would not be accompanying Obama on Air Force One, in a break from the past tradition, which officials said is mainly due to scheduling conflict, several members of his cabinet would accompany Obama.
Prominent among those accompanying the US President would include Tom Donilon, the new National Security Advisor Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack; and of course, Raj Shah, Administrator of USAID.
Shah is the highest-ranking Indian American in the Obama Administration. The Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, would join Obama on the Delhi leg of his trip.
According to a White House press advisory, Obama and the First Lady would depart Andrews Air Force Base at about 10 am local time (1930 hrs India time).
They would stop at Ramstein in Germany to refuel. His scheduled arrival is at 1250 hrs on Saturday in Mumbai where he would stay at the Taj Hotel, which was attacked by Pakistani terrorists during the 26/11 terror attacks.
'Obama's visit won't benefit India'
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters
Scores of people, holding placards that read "Obama go back, dont disturb Muslims" and "American agent murdabad", gathered outside Bara Imambara after offering the Friday prayers in Lucknow.
Branding both Israel and the US as anti-Muslims, Jawwad said that the central government should change the national policy towards these nations.
"The visit of Obama will not benefit the country in anyway and linking it with progress is baseless," Jawwad said.
The agitators also burnt an effigy of the US president. Heavy police force was deployed to check any untoward incident during protest, which passed off peacefully.
'India is good news for the US'
Photographs: Danish Siddiqu/Reuters
And on the eve of his departure, the Treasury Department announced slapping sanctions on Lashkar-e-Tayiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad , the two Pakistan based terrorist outfits, and Azam Cheema, the key operational commander of the 26/11 attacks. The Treasury took action against Azam Cheema, who helped train operatives for the November 2008 Mumbai attacks and was the "mastermind" behind the July 2006 Mumbai train bombings carried out by LeT, for acting for or on behalf of LeT.
Obama, according to sources privy to discussions related to his India preparations, has argued that "India is a good news" and the United States needs to "invest in India" for the future of its national security, economic prosperity and global stability.
"It (India) is an indispensable partner, one that we recognise is rising on the global stage, one that we want to embrace, because we think that together with India, as we have historically with others with our European partners -- there are many things we can do together that advance both our countries' interests and also that provide for others," Mike Hammer, spokesman of the National Security Council, White House told foreign correspondents on the eve of his departure.
"To me, the US and India share an indispensable partnership, one that has benefits for both our countries and the world. This partnership is based on both our shared values and our shared interests, and for these reasons, I welcome and support India's rise as a global power. It is in the best interests of both countries, of the region, and the world," Obama told PTI.
"I think you can expect a series of announcements on how we are going to deepen and broaden our cooperation on a range of things that will have a direct and very positive impact on millions of people in both India and the United States.
There will be big items on the agenda, and just as importantly I believe that we will build an even stronger foundation for the US-India partnership going forward," he said.
'Obma will focus on the economic dimension of the partnership'
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters
Economic dimension of the Indo-US relationship is expected to be one of the major focus of his India visit, and a series of announcements in this regard are expected during Obama's stay in Mumbai where he would address a business summit and in New Delhi, the official leg of his India visit.
"I'm going to be leaving tomorrow for India, and the primary purpose is to take a bunch of US companies and open up markets so that we can sell in Asia and some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, and we can create jobs here in the United States of America," Obama told reporters soon after his Cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday.
This was his last Cabinet meeting before he leaves for India on Friday and the first after Tuesday's electoral setbacks in the mid-term polls, in which his Democratic Party lost majority in the US House of Representatives. A day earlier Obama had said that this is a reflection of the frustration among Americans on continued job loss and poor economic condition.
"My hope is that we've got some specific announcements that show the connection between what we're doing overseas and what happens here at home when it comes to job growth and economic growth," Obama said indicating that there will be some major announcements in this regard in Mumbai and New Delhi.
'Countries are competeing with US: Obama
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
According to some reports, India could place orders worth US $ 12 billion including military and commercial sales that would create some 60,000 jobs in the US. "The bottom line is that all around the world, countries are moving; they are serious about competing; they are serious about competing with us not just on manufacturing but on services; and they're competing with us when it comes to educational attainment, when it comes to scientific discovery," Obama said.
"A whole bunch of corporate executives are going to be joining us so that I can help them open up those markets and allow them to sell their products," Obama said.
Several top American CEOs would join Obama in his India leg of his trip both in Mumbai and New Delhi.
In Mumbai, his first stop, Obama would address a meeting of top Indian and American business executives; besides having a separate meeting with American CEOs in India that time including Indra Nooyi of Pepsico.
He would also meet the members of the Indo-US CEO Council in New Delhi.