No headscarf, Obama may skip Golden Temple visit

US President Barack Obama's visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar is likely to be called off after a ticklish question on what he should use to cover his head put his aides in a tight spot. Moreover, a packed schedule in Mumbai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's plan to host a dinner for Obama on November 7 left a very narrow window for Amritsar.

But it was the first question which created more doubt what should Obama use to cover his head when he visits the Golden Temple?

The White House team which visited India last month ruled out Obama wearing the traditional scarf on his head. Indian officials were informally told that Obama wearing a headscarf to visit the Golden Temple may convey an image of him appearing to be a Muslim. This is one misinterpretation Obama's advisors did not want at any cost, given the political sensitivities over this issue in the US.

As a result, a final decision on whether Obama would visit the Golden Temple was always kept pending. An American official is said to have explained at one of the pre-visit meetings that each day Obama has to remind the US that he should not be mistaken for a Muslim just because his middle name is Hussain. For this reason, considerable thought was being given to what Obama could wear without offending Sikh sentiments.

Obama's aides finally came up with the idea of a "modified" baseball cap. It would have to be modified because the Golden Temple does not permit a baseball cap instead of a headscarf. In fact, the temple authorities have no problems with skull caps.

As Giani Gurbachan Singh, head priest of the Golden Temple, puts it: "We have no problems if he wears a skull cap, the kind that Muslims wear to the mosque or any other cap that is modified to something similar. But we don't allow baseball caps or Army hats."

It is within these red lines that Obama's aides had to find the appropriate headgear which would serve his domestic political purpose while taking care not to hurt Sikh sentiments. The Indian government, on its part, studiously stayed away from this issue, maintaining that it was for US authorities to resolve.

Obama, who arrives here on November 6, will first touch down in Mumbai, where he plans to visit a 26/11 memorial and Mani Bhawan, where Mahatma Gandhi used to stay. He was then scheduled to go to Amritsar for this brief and only religious engagement in the itinerary.

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