By Kaleem Kawaja
The multireligious Indian-American community that started migrating to United States following the promulgation of the 1965 Civil Rights Act by the US Congress has grown steadily. Especially the passage of the US Citizens’ Family Reunification Program, encouraged the emigration of immediate family members of naturalized citizens. Thus, today the population of the Indian-American community stands at just under 4 million. About half of them are either on immigrant visa (green card) or H1B work visa.
A majority of these Indian Americas are college graduates and well educated. In the various cities where these folks live, over the years they formed various social & cultural groups. Being well educated their social mixing often crossed the boundaries of the regions in India they are from and their religion. Overall it has been a good community. A rough breakdown shows that Hindus comprise about 60 % of the Indian-American population; Muslims 15%, Christians 15%, Sikhs 6%.
Starting about five years ago a new phenomenon is occurring. With the formation of the Hindu-fundamentalist BJP government in India, the RSS, the parent body of the BJP, and the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) began an organized campaign to infiltrate most Indian-American social and cultural organizations and transform them into Hindu-American organizations. Thus, one can see the emergence of a distinct Hindu-centric attitude in major professional organizations, e.g., of doctors (American Association of Physicians from India), of engineers (American Society of Engineers from India); of lawyers (Indian Lawyers Association) and major social organizations, e.g. National Federation of Indian Associations (NFIA).
Similarly, Hindu American Federation (HAF) that earlier claimed to protect the human rights of Hindu-Americans, and has been a part of the interfaith scene in the US, is now propagating a Hindu-supremacist attitude. Also, they are now championing RSS cadres’ human rights carnages against minorities in India and Kashmir as necessary to curb terrorism. They are also siding with Islamophobes in various interfaith bodies in the US.
Prominent speakers at major well-attended events of these organizations are vocal RSS and BJP leaders who are often visitors from India, who decry India’s religious minorities e.g. Muslims, Christians, Dalits for being anti-national. They also endorse the frequent violations of human rights of minorities by government agencies and police in the last few years as efforts to curb terrorism and lawlessness. They also decry Dalits who are low-caste Hindus as being hostile to India.
In the last one year with the advent of the 2020 general election in US, the American arms of RSS and BJP have accelerated their efforts to infiltrate the US election process and to use their financial muscle to have their surrogates run in the election, for US Congress/ House of Representatives, Houses of Delegates in various states. RSS strongly financed the campaign of Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii seeking the nomination of the Democratic party for the 2020 Presidential election. Also, they are strongly supporting at least 4 other candidates.
This phenomenon of RSS BJP surge in the US election process goes back at least four years. In 2016 Raja Krishnamoorthy (D) ran from Skokie Illinois, a district where there is big population of South Asians including Muslims. He convinced a lot of people in his district that he wanted to unify the Hindu-Muslim communities. Thus, many youth from both subcommunities worked as volunteers in his winning campaign. With a similar campaign he won that seat in 2018 also. However, in 2019 he was a keynote speaker at the RSS America convention in Chicago, where he praised RSS as a social welfare organization. Also, in 2019 November he spoke at the RSS sponsored Howdy- Modi public rally in Houston, TX. Also, every year in the last several years when Narendra Modi visited New York to attend the UN General Assembly, he went there to meet him. In August 2020 he spoke at a convention of the Hindu American Federation (HAF) where instead of asking 2 million Indian-American voters to unite and support the Indian community’s candidates, he spoke of 2 million Hindu-Americans uniting and supporting Hindu-American candidates.
Congressional candidate Sri Kulkarni similarly visited many Iftar (fast-breaking) dinners of the Muslim community in Houston and visited area mosques in the last 3 years. In the 2018 election which he did not win, many local Muslims supported his campaign in the name of supporting a South Asian candidate. This year he has received strong support and about $2 million funding from RSS and OFBJP, the US arm of BJP. Again, he is trying hard to get local Muslim support but he has categorically refused to condemn the human rights brutalities perpetrated by the RSS cadres on Muslims in India, and the BJP govt police brutalities on them and in Kashmir. He has also declined to answer questions on the sources of his big campaign chest.
The third prominent RSS candidate this year is Padma Kappa in the Detroit, MI, suburb of Troy. She is a Democratic party incumbent in the Michigan State House of Delegates. In her constituency also there is a large population of South Asians including Muslims who supported her in the previous elections in the name of solidarity of South Asians. In the last one year she has often spoken publicly praising RSS as a social welfare organization and has praised the brutal human rights violations of Muslims in India as efforts to curb terrorism. RSS has provided very good financial support in her campaign this year.
The fourth known candidate running on RSS financial and organizational support is Manga Anantatmula. The lady is running on Republican ticket from Fairfax, Virginia, a Washington DC suburb. On her website thee are endorsements from several RSS and BJP leaders and she herself has appealed to Hindu-Americans, instead of Indian-Americans, for their support to strengthen the Hindu community in US and has profusely praised India’s PM Narendra Modi.
Indeed, in 2020 there are about six other lesser known candidates from both parties, Democrat and Republican who are running for various seats with strong RSS and BJP financial and manpower support. Thus, while supporting President Trump’s reelection including direct public endorsements from PM Modi several times, RSS and BJP are making equal effort to have their candidates win on Democratic party tickets. Also, RSS and BJP and their many volunteers are working hard to carve out influential space in both major parties for themselves.
However, in the Indian-American community there are several secular and objective Indian-Hindu-American Congressmen, Delegates in State Houses, Members of City Councils who are objective proponents of the human and civic rights of minorities and Dalits in India. Indeed, we often see them speaking out against human rights violations happening in India.
In the last few years, the harmful negative campaigns of RSS and BJP in the US as mentioned above is causing serious splintering of the Indian American community between Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs. This is directly harming the unity, cohesion, and friendship among these subcommunities that are necessary for the well-being of the Indian-American community in the US. There is a pressing need for all progressive forces in the Indian diaspora in the US to link up and stop the harmful effect of the growing sectarian influence of RSS and OFBJP in the US.