On any given day, at any given political event, there are likely to be people standing behind a politician giving a speech. They’re supposed to give a “real people” feel to a campaign event or policy speech, and we’re so used to them that we barely pay attention to them any more.
But you couldn’t help but pay attention to Navroop Mitter, who stood between President Obama and Vice President Biden at an event Tuesday in Washington.
Mitter was the one in the bright pink turban.
“It has cultural significance in Punjab, but here at home in the States, frankly, I needed something that matched the tie,” said Mitter, reached today by phone.
ABC News found Mitter through Twitter. He responded when this reporter wondered in a tweet who was the gentleman in the turban. And Twitter was how the White House found Mitter. The White House Office of Social Engagement had asked supporters how an extension of the payroll tax cut – about $40 per paycheck – would help them.
Mitter’s tweet suggested he could buy a paycheck’s worth of coffee for $40.
“One cup a day from Starbucks,” he said today. “That’s about five bucks.”
Late last week he got a direct message on Twitter from a White House staffer inviting him to the event.
The irony is that Mitter is CEO of an technology startup and doesn’t currently draw a paycheck, so he doesn’t benefit from the $40 payroll tax cut extension, although he said he was still drawing a paycheck when he originally tweeted at the White House.
“Sadly at the moment, No. I’m actually putting my savings and what I have into the company,” said Mitter, who has worked previously at Accenture. His company, Gryphn, which launched in August and is based in the D.C. area, seeks to provide security and privacy to mobile phone users.
Mitter wore the pink turban, figuring he’d be lost in the back of the room, because it matched his tie and also because he hoped it would help him stand out.
“I had no idea I would be standing behind the president,” he said. “I said, Mom, you’ll be able to pick me out of the audience if the camera pans.”
Instead, photographers captured the striking image of his turban right behind President Obama.
Mitter is not an everyday pink kind of guy. He first got the turban to wear to a friend’s wedding in Punjab, because pink and red are traditionally worn by Sikhs to signify an important celebration.
And he said he’s happy that President Obama has sought to engage the Sikh community by honoring their holy day Visakhi in April. The president did encounter some criticism when he skipped a trip to the sacred Sikh temple Armistar during a trip to India in 2010, in part to avoid pictures of the Christian president wearing a head covering inside the temple.
Mitter, who saw the president’s national political coming out at the 2004 Democratic National convention in Boston, lives in Maryland, a state that is a sure bet to side with President Obama in 2012. But he’s not a Democrat.
“I’m actually registered as an independent. A lot of my views tend to sit on both sides of the line,” said Mitter.
And he’s not willing to say definitively if he’ll vote for Obama. But he did say, “I believe President Obama has tried to put forth a lot of great initiatives. And it would be good to have some level of continuity.”