Hindu nationalism and its bipartisan presence in the US elections 

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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, Edited By Adam Rizvi TIO: The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), modeled on Adolf Hitler’s Nazis, is an insidious organization, growing steadily over the last century in India and presently on a mission to infiltrate US politics. Identifying and grooming candidates across the board. It does not matter to them if they are Republicans or Democrats, ensnaring them by funding their campaigns. India’s Hindu nationalist lobby seeks to place its candidates in positions of power in the US. This is probably for the first time in the history of US elections that RSS and its affiliates have managed to prop up at least half a dozen congressional candidates and a senate candidate.

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File photo of the protest. image credit Alamy

RSS rests on the notion of a Hindu majoritarian state for which it has created fictional enemies in the Muslims, Christians, and Dalits, initiating pogroms against them, killing lakhs since independence to stay relevant.

Its affiliate, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA) set up an office in the US, as far back as in 1975, five years after it set up an office in India, and the international wing of the RSS, the Hindu Swayamsevak (HSS) started its offices in 1989,  the Office of the Friends of BJP (OFBJP) was set up in 1992, and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) set up in 2003, it was not until Narendra Modi became the prime minister of India in 2014, that an extreme buzz was created amongst Indians here to push for public office h high numbers, with outside funding and support.

Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) Sarsanghchalak, Narendra Modi Keshubhai Patel and others at 29th RSS Vishwa Sangh sivir in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India (Photo by Shailesh Raval/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

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As is evident by voting trends in the present elections, democrats are being favored hugely and Indian American democrats too are getting voter support, with very little awareness of where the funding for their candidates is coming from. Those shying away from white supremacists and choosing democrats are hardly likely to vote for these candidates who have links with Hindu nationalists, tethering on a fascist ideology, with a history of violence and hate crimes behind them in India. On one hand, these candidates who project themselves as progressive candidates are vocal against President Donald Trump’s anti-democratic policies here, but on the other hand, are totally unmindful and claim ignorance of Modi’s divisive, hateful and dangerous governance in India.

Hindu-right groups, the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have been classified as “militant religious organizations” by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States federal government.

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Narendra Modi’s propaganda machinery has pumped up the notion that he has somehow restored Indian pride internationally, just by winning the 2014 elections and celebrating it with his followers in Madison’s garden. What is surprising however is that these candidates continue to believe in Modi, even six years after evidence of his immense failure in India. The proponents of  Hindu nationalism seem to be seeking legitimacy in the US, by “investing” in these candidates, for sustained growth in the next few years.

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Dr. Bharat Barai longtime confidante of P.M. Modi with External Affairs Minister of India Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Mrs. Barai at one of the private parties held on the sidelines of the Houston rally. HowdyMody. Image Credit India Abroad

There is a collective mission to propel their chosen ones into office, to have a say in the government, whoever comes to power. Modi, a lifelong member of the RSS who was reassigned in 1987 to work within its political wing, the BJP, traveled to the US twice in the 1990s. The second time, in 1998, he was “dispatched by the BJP to review the activities” of the OFBJP. Both times, he stayed with Dr. Bharat Barai, an oncologist and an executive member of the VHPA and one of the biggest organizers of Modi’s events and donors to these candidates. 

Indian Americans are one of the largest and most prosperous immigrant groups in the US contributing substantially to its economic growth. It is therefore not much of a surprise that they would want to play an active role in the country’s politics as well, which they have been doing so for decades. But this is probably for the first time, that questions are being raised on the funding of these candidates in the fray, most of which can be traced to the extreme right-wing organizations like the RSS and its affiliates in the US.

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The following are the candidates in the fray, propped up by Hindu nationalists.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, Democrat, TX-22, Texas

Sri Preston Kulkarni

Srinivas Rao Preston Kulkarni, born to an Indian father and an American mother in 1978 in Houston, Texas, a Harvard alumnus, has been a diplomat for 14 years. An ideal democrat representative for the House, he quit a highly successful diplomatic career to jump into politics, following a white supremacist attack in Charlottesville. He lost his last election against Republican Pete Olsen, by a whisker. He is in the fray once again, this time pitted against the local sheriff Troy Nehls.

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Preston Kulkarni has in the past claimed that because he was born in the US, he was unaware of the RSS or any of its antecedents, till two years back, a less than convincing argument for a seasoned diplomat, especially since he was poised to be posted in Delhi US embassy.  He has on the other hand declined to come clean on allegations of him being heavily funded by these organizations, raising doubts about his integrity. One of his biggest donors is businessman Ramesh Bhutada, who helped set up HSS in Houston, now spread across the US, whom he refers to as a father figure, a connection he managed to keep in hiding till as late as August 2020.

The Bhutada family, Ramesh Bhutada with his wife, son Rishi Bhutada his wife and children

The Bhutada family, including his son Rishi Bhutada, who also organized the Howdy Modi event in Houston last year,  has donated over $ 50,000 to his election campaign, taking the total to $166,000, giving him quite a financial edge over his opponent Sheriff Nehl’s. Preston is also the nephew of deceased BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, something which he does not talk openly about either.

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Padma Kuppa, Democrat, HD41, Michigan

Padma Kuppa, the first Indian and Hindu member of the Michigan House of Representatives, makes no attempts to hide her love and admiration for Narendra Modi. She traveled to India, in November 2014, to attend a conference organized by the RSS. Between 2005 to 2014, when Modi, as the chief minister of Gujarat  was banned from entering the US, for his complicities in the 2002 Gujarat riots, under a law prohibiting foreign officials who are “responsible for or directly carried out, at any time, particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” In the months before Modi was elected in May 2014 as the prime minister, HAF, of which Kuppa was a board member, was actively lobbying in Capitol Hill, to shut down any criticisms leveled against Modi.

Padma Kuppa, Democrat, member of the Michigan House of Rep.

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She has been very vocal for her support for Kashmiri Pandits, many of whom chose to leave the Kashmir valley in the early ’90s, following a rise in militancy, The Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti, revealed that in 20 years since 1990, there have been about 650 deaths. In contrast, more than 70,000 Muslims have been killed by the state, another 10,000 have disappeared following militancy. And yet, this no doubt, a tragic episode in the valley, has been milked incessantly by the Hindu supremacists to further their cause of creating a religious divide between the Hindus and Muslims, not just in Kashmir, but throughout the country. In 2015, when there were fears expressed, following reports of Hindu nationalists targeting Christians, Kuppa had argued against the ‘western bias’ which fails to understand Hindu nationalism and what it seeks. As a progressive democrat, it is strange that she fails to acknowledge the fact that Hindu nationalism entails mixing religion and politics. The Modi government in fact rode to power with promises of subverting India into a Hindu majoritarian state.

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In October 2018, a little over a year, before she was elected to the house in January 2019, there were reports of Padma Kuppa endorsing the Hindutva regime. She is after all a long-term associate of VHPA. And it was no surprise that donations for her very first electoral battle came from donors, like Ramesh Bhutata who is also the vice-president of HSS and an organizer for the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP). For Kuppa’s second bid for office. 

Her other donors include Subhash Gupta and Nainan Desai, both presidents of HSS, Houston, and Tampa respectively. Gaurang Vaishnav, a former VHPA general secretary, and now a member of the group’s governing council, from New Jersey, has also donated to her campaign. 

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Raja Krishnamoorthi, 8th District, Illinois

Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.)USA

A Harvard Law School alumni and a successful businessman, Raja Krishnamoorthi has excellent credentials and was first elected to the House in January 2017. He is presently running for his third term.

A progressive Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, clearly failed to distinguish between Hinduism, the religion, and Hindutva, the ideology of hate and violence. Probably, this is why he spoke at a VHPA conference in Indiana, in September 2017, on “political engagement for promoting Hindu interests outside of India.” Several speakers at the event, Nainan Desai, president of HSS,  Tampa Bay, Shamkant Sheth, Vinesh Virani, and Nirav Patel, all representing VHPA, have all donated to his campaign. An unabashed Modi supporter, Krishnamurti has been to India twice to meet him after his election. He was also one of the few elected officials who were there at the Howdy Modi event held in Houston last year.

VHPA heavyweight  Bharat Barai and his wife Panna have donated nearly $32000 to his campaign. These nationalists have not only been donating to his campaign but also rallying behind him, as far back as in  2016, when he was merely a candidate. 

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Niraj Antani, Republican, District 42, Ohio

The 29-year-old congressman, who has been elected to the house thrice and is now running for election to the Ohio state senate was only 23, and just a student at the Dayton Law college, when he got a chance to run for office for the very first time. He is right now in the news for all the wrong reasons though. His adoration for Narendra Modi was obvious, when he tweeted, “incredible being with 50,000 fellow Indian Americans in Houston”, at the Howdy Modi event, held in Houston. Texas last year. The much-touted event which was attended by President Donald Trump as well was largely boycotted not just by the American politicians, but also the Indian American politicians. Antani was one of the few elected officials to join the event. It is after this event that Antani became very vocal about his support for Modi.

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Niraj Antani

Antani went a step further by praising Trump at the World Hindu Congress, held in Chicago in August 2018, for having “stood with Prime Minister Modi in the United States” and applauded him for “neutrality when it comes to the Citizenship Amendment Act and the abrogation of 370.” 

Niraj Antani too has received funding from the Hindutva group, including Shekhar Reddy who is on the advisory board of the Florida chapter of Ekal Vidyalaya, a “single-teacher school” project of the VHP in India. VHP was established in the USA in 1975, barely five years after it was established in India.

He too has received approximately $26,000  from nine out-of-state donors, all of whom owe allegiance to the Hindutva ideology.

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Rishi Kumar, Democrat, 18th District, California and Ritesh Tandon, 17th District, California

Rishi Kumar and Ritesh Tandon, the two candidates in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, both engineers, running for congress are the perfect examples of candidates of a bipartisan approach to groom candidates to represent the interests of Hindu nationalists in the corridors of power in the US politics. 

Rishi Kumar

During Narendra Modi’s visit to Saratoga in 2015, Rishi Kumar, then a councilor had his fanboy moment, thrilled to be conversing with a world leader for the very first time in his life!

He was also part of the organizing team for the mega-reception of Modi in San Jose, California, attended by  RSS, BJP, and VHP leaders.

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“Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley had the Indian-American community buzzing for months. The dynamic leadership of Modi has sparked a huge sense of pride in being Indian that was hitherto missing.” he wrote. He liked the BJP so much that he ended up actually campaigning for Modi in 2019.

Ritesh Tandon is challenging fellow Indian and incumbent Democrat congressman Rohit (Ro) Khanna, who is running for his third term, Ro Khanna a popular candidate, has become a sore spot for the Hindu nationalists, because he has rejected Hindutva, wanting to set a new narrative for the South Asian American community. His quote, “ It’s the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Christians”, went viral and was a testimony against the Modi government, especially after the abrogation of Article 370, revoking the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Ritesh Tandon

Within a few weeks, Ritesh Tandon announced his candidature opposite Ro Khanna. 

“My father was from the RSS,” said Tandon in an interview about his candidacy. He also declared, as reported by India Abroad, that “he was motivated to run by Khanna’s alleged anti-Hindutva comments.” Ro Khanna too was initially funded by the same bigoted lot. However, he quickly sidelined himself from them, after his first win.

Most of these candidates have a good shot at victory in the coming polls, giving Hindu nationalists a chance to dig deeper into US politics, unmindful of the hypocrisy of it all.

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Edited By Adam Rizvi, Curated By Humra Kidwai 

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar

Vijaylakshmi Nadar is the regional Bureau Chief of the USA based News Portal, "www.TheIndiaObserver.Com". She has been a fearless journalist for over two decades and has worked in several publications in Mumbai, India. She has worked for The Pioneer, The Daily, Afternoon Despatch, and Courier, Free Press Group, Life Positive, freelanced for The Federal, The Week, Midday, Deccan Herald, Herald-Citizen (USA), South Asian Times (USA). She is a broadcaster, commentator, interviewer besides being an investigative journalist. She has covered several beats, including politics, civic affairs, law, public health, crime, sports, environment. She has also been an assistant producer for a documentary film commissioned by PBS, on Methamphetamine addiction in Tennessee, called Crank: Darkness on the edge of town. She has also been a guest faculty teaching journalism at the School of Broadcasting, Mumbai.

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