How Hindu Nationalism Could Shape the Election

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How Hindu Nationalism Could Shape the Election

When Khanna stood in front of a podium in his town hall last year with a portrait of Gandhi on a table to his left (a celebration of Gandhi’s 150th birthday preceded the event), he admitted that “marginalized groups” were angry with him . But he defended his position. “I will certainly never bow my convictions over a lobby of special interest,” he said. “I have no tolerance for right-wing nationalists associated with Donald Trump.” Applause thundered over his voice. “You’re maybe 2 to 3 percent in an echo chamber in that district,” Khanna continued. “But you will see that our values, our district, are pluralistic.”

Groups that embrace and stand up for them This is because the United States has had some form of Hindutva for decades, serving as non-profit organizations for immigrant communities who want to preserve Indian culture.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, which have nationalist counterparts in India, were formed in 1970 and 1989, respectively, after a wave of Indian immigration to the United States in the post-civil rights era. The organizations tried to mediate their vision from Hindu Values ​​and culture through heritage camps, temple conferences and other events. The BJP’s overseas friends who registered as a foreign agent was founded last August despite the start in 1992 as PR project of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of India to correct what members argued were to promote distorted views on India and the BJP and the political party’s platform.

The establishment of the non-profit organization Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the most active Hindu group in US politics, coincided with the emergence of South Asian American civil rights groups in the aftermath of September 11th. HAF has long denied allegations of Hindu nationalism, calling them “Hindu phobia” or “anti-Hindu bias”. But the group also put pressure on, for example one Revisionist Version of ancient Indian history in American Textbooks this downplays the role of the caste system in Hinduism and insists on adding all of South Asia to India Defense of the movements of India in Kashmir and a Citizenship law that excludes Muslimsboth of which are considered part of the Government of India nationalist agenda.

Since the mid-2000s, PACs dealing with Hindu identity have also been involved in US electoral politics. The most influential is the Hindu American PAC (HAPAC). According to Rishi Bhutada, a board member of HAF and HAPAC, the latter was founded in 2012 to support Hindu candidates and those who advocate Hindu policies, such as streamlining the immigration process and combating bullying and hate crimes against Hindu Americans. In the 2016 campaign, a PAC called the Republican Hindu Coalition, whose founder Shalabh Kumar was a mega-donor of Trump, argued that conservative values ​​were Hindu values ​​and urged for a stronger alliance between the GOP and Hindu groups – including with a Bollywood-Tollywood-themed concert where candidate Trump spoke. While this group has become largely inactive, Trump’s 2020 campaign has run ads targeting Indian-American voters.

Now another Hindu PAC has emerged – officially impartial, but currently only weighted behind Republicans.

On the evening after Khanna’s City Hall in October, a group of Indian Americans gathered for one of their routine (pre-Covid) gatherings to discuss politics and community issues. They met at the hilltop mansion of a wealthy and well-connected doctor, Romesh Japra, in Fremont, California, part of Khanna’s borough. According to Japra, those gathered at “Japra Mahal,” as he calls his home, included members of nationalist Hindu organizations in the Bay Area, groups he does not see in a negative light. “To me, nationalism or Hinduism or Hindutva or Hindu are Dharma – they are all the same,” he said in an interview.

These friends, mostly men, were irritated by their congressman. Since Khanna posted his “Hindutva” tweet, they had begun discussing an idea for a “movement” to protect their ideology and support a challenger for Khanna. With the encouragement of his friends, Ritesh Tandon, an India-born Hindu Republican and tech entrepreneur, announced his intention to face Khanna that evening, Japra told me. The casual gathering turned spontaneously into a political prelude; About 75 people heard Tandon’s dull speech in the mansion’s banquet room while they dined at a vegetarian Indian dinner prepared by local chefs.

By early December, Japra, once an ally of the Khanna and now a Trump supporter, had registered a new super-PAC, Americans for Hindus, to codify their cause. Among the groups Donor are co-founders of the Hindu American Foundation, coordinator of the Northern California Chapter of the OFBJP, and chairs a 2014 Madison Square Garden celebration for Modi. By October 14, the group had more than increased $ 225,000, a small figure in the world of campaign funding, but significant compared to other PACs that revolve around Hindu identity.

Americans for Hindus, Japra says, aim to encourage “pro-Hindu” politicians who stay away from criticism of India, distance themselves from the “socialist” policies of the Democratic Party, which Japra hopes Congress of liberate what he is Terms like “anti-Hindu elements” – progressives like Khanna and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, another Indian-American politician. Americans for Hindus doesn’t endorse Jayapal as a challenger, but the Congresswoman did dressed the wrath of the Indian government, as well as some in the Indian diaspora, of criticizing India’s treatment of the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, which a bipartisan resolution She introduced herself to the House of Representatives. (Jayapal told me in an interview earlier this year The bill was blockedthat more representatives than appeared supported the bill, but that they feared the possible loss of support from their Indo-American voters. “You don’t want to be attacked,” she said.

The policy of the American Hindu PACs is not uniform. HAPAC has mostly donated Democrats over the years and is currently in favor both Republicans and Democrats, while Americans only support for Hindus republican. “We think the Hindus, our values ​​and our philosophy … they are more in line with staying in the middle,” Japra said, explaining that this has led to “basically reaching out more to the Republicans.” But in February, Americans for Hindus worked with HAPAC on phone calls Introduce selected “pro-Hindu” candidates– three Democrats and one Republican – to Hindu American voters. Mihir Meghani, chairman of HAPAC and donor by Americans for Hindus and co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, wrote in a public Facebook post that “Hindu candidates for office and elected officials are currently under attack in America” ​​and that “if we want a strong Hindu voice, our community must support those candidates”.

Americans for Hindus has funded candidates that range from a few longshots to a few likely winners to multiple races in battlefield districts. Kumar, the Trump donor, who also encouraged another Hindu Republican To challenge Khanna in 2014, he told me he believed Tandon – one of the long shots – could have done more to attract Hindu American donors in Khanna’s district since it is “so rich in Hindu Americans”. In a statement, Tandon blamed Covid for its struggle to reach more Americans but said it had received funding from people of all faiths. Japra now has a long-term vision for its PAC. “These races are just the beginning,” he says. “Overall, our movement is picking up speed across the country.”

During a Zoom meeting in late September (which I attended as a reporter), Japra and a dozen or so PAC supporters in the Bay Area, Texas, New York, and elsewhere got together to share their organization. The Silicon Valley race was the most momentous for them. “This is our current Bhoomi“Japra said, using the Hindi word for land.” And we want to make sure that our ideology, our civilization, our culture, the Hindu culture that we are so proud of, are maintained. ”

Japra approached Tandon, adding, “There is a transnational movement going on and your local campaign is a microcosm of what is going on in the world.”

Also as an American for Hindus has challenged politicians like Khanna for what the group sees as insufficient support for Hindutva. Progressive South Asian voters and advocacy groups have loudly urged politicians to speak up against Hindu nationalism. They want Indian-American politicians, including some left-wingers, to openly oppose Hindutva, condemn human rights violations in India, and reject financial support from Americans affiliated with organizations that promote Hindutva.

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