Highlights Reel of Hindutva Interference in US Sociopolitics
Is it time for US intelligence to put American Hindutva outfits on their radar?
Introducing the Highlights Reel of Hindutva Interference
My first direct, personal experience being threatened for opposing India’s Hindu nationalist movement, as an American citizen on US soil, occurred in 2015 in my home state of California when I protested the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
I was standing outside the venue, silently holding two signs, when an Indian man of perhaps 300 pounds — at least twice my size — approached me, began shoving me with his body, and whispered in my ear: “I will break you.” Soon after, Modi supporters ran up and grabbed both my signs. Police approached and quickly escorted me away to safety.
That incident was a major catalyst for me to begin a deep dive investigation into the nature of the Hindu nationalist movement in India, its connections to us here in the US, and, very specifically, ways in which American politicians have engaged with Hindutva elements.
I’m going to briefly detail the structure of the Hindutva family of organizations here in America and ways in which they maintain a two-way engagement with their parent organizations back in India. Then I’ll briefly give a highlights reel of ways in which the Hindutva movement is interfering with American politics, intimidating academics, and threatening Indian minority communities. But first, I will give a little more detail about how I’ve personally been repeatedly targeted, often in ways that may constitute transnational repression, for my journalistic work on Hindutva.
Focused attacks on me first began in about 2019 after I published a cover article in an Indian magazine about how then Congresswoman and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was tied to the Hindutva movement. Here’s a few of the major ways I’ve been attacked.
In 2019, after Congressman Ro Khanna commented approvingly on my article, a group allegedly from the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) — the US wing of India’s RSS paramilitary — protested outside one of Khanna’s town halls while holding posters denouncing me. Notably, my article had heavily emphasized the direct, intimate ties between America’s HSS and India’s RSS. Such ties include HSS leaders attending RSS training camps in India as well as bringing RSS leaders to America to inspect HSS units around the country.
In 2021, months after my reportage exposed the Hindutva ties of a US congressional candidate, the Indian government itself stepped in to target me.
On February 15, 2021, a shadowy group called “DisInfo Lab” published a nearly 100-page dossier on me on February 12, 2021. The report contained details about my parents, my in-laws, and even details about my past work history which have never been public record and could probably only be unearthed via an intelligence operation. In fact, in December 2023, The Washington Post exposed how this “DisInfo Lab” outfit is almost certainly headed by an agent of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s equivalent of the CIA.
The same day (Valentine’s Day 2021 for me, in the US time zone), the Delhi Police hosted a press conference accusing me of connections to “terrorists” and implying that I was the “mastermind” behind a PDF social media “toolkit” which taught people how to talk about the then ongoing Farmers Protest. They stated that I have been “on the radar” of Indian intelligence agencies since 2006.
This double whammy attack on me, an American citizen, by the Indian government subsequently disturbed and even upended my life in a wide variety of deeply personal ways and continues to stress me, particularly after reports that the Modi regime may have been responsible for the assassination of a Canadian citizen and the attempted assassination of an American citizen in 2023.
Most of my recent work focuses on exposing the major “name brand” Hindutva outfits in America. These are three of them:
- The HSS, a direct corollary of India’s RSS.
- The VHPA, a direct corollary of India’s VHP, which is the cultural wing of India’s RSS.
- The Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), the US corollary of India’s BJP, which is the political wing of India’s RSS and has been registered as a “foreign agent” in America since 2020.
Please note three things. First, all three of these groups have often shared cross-pollinated leadership and membership and they appear to all work in sync. Second, all three groups appear to maintain extensive two-way links — from America to India and from India to America — with their parent organizations in India. Third, these groups seem to behave almost as a US-based extension of the Indian state even while they are insidiously infiltrating and influencing every level of American government.
So let’s examine some major ways in which elements linked to these Hindutva outfits and/or the Modi regime have worked to impede, interfere, and intimidate at both the street and also the state level throughout the US. I will run through these swiftly to give an idea of how extensive this is.
Hindutva in America’s Street-Level Interference
First, starting at the street level.
Last month, in January 2024, when Modi inaugurated a controversial temple on the site of a mosque destroyed by Hindutva groups, sympathizers gathered in Times Square in New York and chanted that this was only the prelude to destruction of other mosques throughout India.
In 2023, the Indian government apparently plotted the assassination of Sikh-American activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The US government’s investigation exposed how he was likely only one of “many” intended targets.
Also in 2023, a BJP cabinet minister from India held a press conference attacking US-based Hindus for Human Rights and accusing them of conspiring to “destroy” India.
Also in 2023, reports emerged that critics of Maryland Lt Governor Aruna Miller’s ties to Hindutva groups, including the OFBJP, have faced intimidation, bullying, stalking, and more from Miller’s camp.
In 2022, within two weeks of each other, digital billboard vans carrying hate messages against Sikhs and Muslims were spotted driving around Connecticut and New Jersey, respectively. Displays on both vans were clearly linked to Indian issues. In New Jersey, the anti-Muslim van circled at least two mosques.
Also in 2022, intimidation and even violence occurred at two different India Day celebrations.
In California, peaceful protesters were physically assaulted for holding signs opposing atrocities in India. In New Jersey, a bulldozer — which has become a symbol of violence against Indian Muslims — was deployed in a parade. Notably, the OFBJP was marching in front of the bulldozer and the HSS was marching behind. A BJP spokesperson from India was theparade’s marshal.
Also in 2022, the HSS and VHPA organized a US tour for a prominent VHP leader from India who has previously incited violence against mosques and Muslims. She was subsequently denied a visa to the UK due to her rabidly xenophobic and Islamophobic character. In 2021, the VHPA also attempted to host another Hindutva leader who has openly called for “eliminating” Muslims.
Also in 2021, a US-based online conference about Hindutva faced a tsunami of attacks, including waves of death and rape threats against academics involved. Groups like the VHPA openly claimed responsibility for getting over one million emails sent to universities to oppose the conference. The US-based Hindu American Foundation (HAF) even apparently launched a campaign to have India’s Foreign Ministry pressure universities to drop out as conference sponsors.
Also in 2021, HAF filed a defamation lawsuit against top anti-Hindutva activists and academics in America in response to a report exposing how VHPA and other American Hindutva groups — including HAF, which refuses to describe itself as a “Hindutva group” and yet not only routinely defends Hindutva as an ideology but also appears to defend primary Indian Hindutva groups like the RSS even as many of HAF’s leaders have a long track-record of links to American Hindutva groups — which got nearly a million dollars in COVID relief funding. The lawsuit was tossed out.
Also in 2021, the elderly parents of an Indian-American academic in California were the targets of a “swatting” incident, apparently due to their son’s anti-Hindutva scholarship.
At the January 6, 2021 insurrection, a man apparently linked to VHPA was in the mob waving an Indian flag.
In 2019, an Indian-American professor received threatening calls from an India-based source right before she testified to Congress.
As recently as 2018, the VHPA, HSS, and others hosted top Indian Hindutva leaders at a major conference in Chicago, including the RSS’s Supreme Leader. Student protestors at the event were physically attacked.
Hindutva in America’s State-Level Interference
Shifting to Hindutva interference at the state level, there is much to discuss, but I will only swiftly highlight some of the major incidents.
In 2023, California’s governor vetoed a bill banning caste discrimination after several people with direct links to Hindutva — including to the OFBJP and the VHPA — pressured him to do so. The Muslim CA State Senator who introduced the bill is now facing a recall petition launched by a congressional candidate who has maintained close ties, during his campaigns, to not only the OFBJP and VHPA but also to India’s BJP.
Also in 2023, in Illinois, American Hindutva groups were suspected to be responsible for Islamophobic language inserted into the description of an Indian-American Advisory Council to the governor. The bill creating the council defined an “Indian” as anyone originating from a South Asian country which is “not primarily Muslim in character,” effectively barring Indian Muslims from representation on the council. The language was reversed after protest.
In 2022, a local Democratic Party chapter in New Jersey passed a resolution calling on federal law enforcement to increase “research on foreign hate groups that have domestic branches,” naming outfits like VHPA and HSS. In response, those very same American Hindutva groups launched an all-out media war on the Democratic chapter, even calling for it to be disbanded.
In 2020, an “unethical alliance” between the VHPA and the Indian consulate generated massive pressure on the Chicago City Council to crush a resolution which denounced India’s “discriminatory” Citizenship Amendment Act. Key people involved included Dr. Bharat Barai, a US-based champion of Modi, who has openly boasted about how he worked to defeat the resolution. Similar resolutions in other US cities were also (unsuccessfully) opposed not only by American Hindutva groups but also by Indian consulates.
Touching on electoral interference. During the 2020 US Presidential Election, a BJP spokesperson in India openly threatened to “interfere” — his words — in the election in response to Senator Bernie Sanders critical comments about human rights in India. In 2019, as then President Trump campaigned for reelection, he joined Modi on stage in Houston, Texas. At the event, Modi praised “candidate Trump” before stating, “Ab ki Baar, Trump Sarkar,” a phrase meaning, “Once more, the Trump regime.” This was widely interpreted by Indian media as an overt endorsement by Modi of Trump’s campaign for reelection.
There is much more I could mention.
How, for instance, the Indian government pressured a library in Connecticut in 2019 to remove a memorial display donated by local Sikhs. Or how the Indian consulate worked to block a 2016 resolution by the Fresno, CA City Council recognizing the 1984 Sikh Genocide. Or how HAF so extensively lobbied against a congressional resolution criticizing Modi and Hindu nationalist violence that one congressional staffer said, “They are definitely trying to undermine anyonein Washington who is critical of Modi.” Almost as though they have foreign interests at heart.
Conclusion: Should American Hindutva Be On US Intelligence’s Radar?
There is so much more to discuss, but for now I will conclude with is this question: If an American citizen like myself is “on the radar” of Indian intelligence simply because I use my First Amendment rights, as a journalist, to investigate the Hindutva movement, then isn’t it reasonable to request that American Hindutva organizations — who apparently maintain intimate ties with both Modi regime in India as well as with militant Hindu nationalist groups like the VHP and the RSS — be put on the radar of US intelligence services?
In other words, is there any reason why US intelligence agencies should not at least be keeping an eye on the activities of American Hindutva groups?