Q: When is a “state visit” not a state visit?

November 24, 2009

A: When the visitor is not head of state.


The flags are out in Washington for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is on what is widely billed as the first official state visit of the Obama administration.

That’s all fine for Singh, whose Congress party swept to victory in May elections, giving him a second term as powerful prime minister of the world’s most populous democracy.

The problem is, India has also a president — Pratibha Patil — who is the first woman to hold that largely ceremonial office and, technically, India’s head of state.

So what’s with all the D.C. pageantry?

A senior U.S. official said the White House had decided to elevate the status of the visit out of recognition of Singh’s friendship and the importance of Indo-U.S. ties, and that everything was set up for full state honors — with one exception.

Those listening to the artillery barrage that marked Singh’s official arrival may have mistaken it for a 21-gun salute, but it wasn’t.

It may have been 19 guns, or possibly 17, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But definitely not 21. Only “real” state visitors get that.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama and Singh at the White House)


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Is there anything about this administration that is real?They seem determined to flout tradition.

Posted by Louisa | Report as abusive

Would anyone challenge Putin’s visit to DC not a state visit ? He is no longer President of Russia now, but he remains the de facto head of state.

Posted by Peters | Report as abusive

What a non-story. The real Indian leader is Sonia Gandhi.

Posted by VBP | Report as abusive

The President of India is the “ceremonial head of state”, whereas the Prime Minister is the “head of government”. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_ of_India

Posted by Rajkumar | Report as abusive