Trump marks Diwali holiday as he ramps up trade relationship with India

PHOTO: President Donald Trump lights a diya as during a Diwali ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Nov. 13, 2018.PlayAlex Wong/Getty Images
WATCH News headlines today: Nov. 15, 2019

President Donald Trump on Thursday marked the coming fall festival of Diwali in the Oval Office with the ceremonial lighting of the Diya, a traditional oil lamp used to decorate houses during the holiday.

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Diwali, also known as the Indian festival of lights, is largely celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists every autumn. It's one of India’s most widely-celebrated holidays and represents light overcoming darkness.

Thursday's White House ceremony, which was closed to reporters and cameras, took place three days ahead of the formal celebration, which begins on Oct. 27 in India and lasts four to five days.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump lights a diya as during a Diwali ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Nov. 13, 2018. Alex Wong/Getty Images
President Donald Trump lights a diya as during a Diwali ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Nov. 13, 2018.

Last year, Trump held an open Diwali ceremony, but was criticized for tweeting about the holiday and failing to include Hindus, one of the largest groups that participates in the celebration.

When President Trump marked Diwali
last year, he invited Indian Ambassador Navtej Singh Sarna to the event. In the middle of his remarks explaining the importance of the holiday, Trump switched gears, referencing the United States trade relationship with India.

“The United States has deep ties to the nation of India, and I am grateful for my friendship with Prime Minister Modi,” he said. “We’re trying very hard to make better trade deals with India, but they’re very good traders.”

Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Trump to a "Howdy Modi" rally in Modi's honor in Houston, Texas, attended by 50,000 Indian-Americans.

Shortly afterward, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that a short-term trade deal between Indian and the United States may be announced soon.

This year, five members of Congress celebrate the Diwali, including Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Rep. Ami Bera and Rep. Ro Khanna.

The first president to celebrate Diwali in the White House was former President Barack Obama in 2009.