Hindutva-Aligned US Politicians Denounce Anti-Hindutva Conference

Two state legislators in the US, both of whom have strong ties to American elements of India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary and the supremacist Hindutva ideology undergirding it, have predictably voiced grievances about the upcoming Dismantling Global Hindutva (DGH) conference.

On 31 August, Ohio State Senator Niraj Antani declared, “This conference represents a disgusting attack on Hindus across the United States.” On 3 September, Michigan State Representative Padma Kuppa argued that the conference “actively promotes identity-based discrimination or hate speech.”

Notably, both politicians have received extensive campaign financing from various leaders in RSS affiliates in the US, have long track records of speaking at RSS-linked events, and have been vocal supporters of the Hindutva — or Hindu nationalist — agenda pushed by current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Hindutva,” as defined by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, is an ideology “which holds non-Hindus as foreign to India.” According to Amnesty International, Hindutva is the political ideology of an exclusively Hindu nation which portrays Muslims and other non-Hindus as hostile to Hindu India, threatening Hindus and eroding their rights.” A term coined, in its modern usage, in the 1920s, it is essentially a religious national political ideology — yet its supporters invariably accuse its critics (which include countless Hindus) of “Hinduphobia” for daring to oppose it.

Describing the DGH conference as “nothing more than racism and bigotry against Hindus,” Antani pledged, “I will always stand strong against Hinduphobia.” Kuppa, meanwhile, claimed the conference would “ostracize a community of students for their religious beliefs” and insisted that it endangers ”the safety and well-being” of Hindu students.

“Hindutva seeks to reduce the myriad practices of Hinduism to a singular notion of Hindu power in a putatively Hindu motherland,” explain the conference organizers. “We condemn attacks on the conference on the grounds of Hinduphobia. Critiques of Hindutva pose no danger to Hinduism. To the contrary, the fascist ideology of Hindutva might, in the long run, turn out to be Hinduism’s greatest enemy.” The organizers further note the importance of developing “a comprehensive understanding of Hindutva and its global implications through its different iterations in the large Indian Diaspora… especially as Hindutva groups expand their influence well beyond India.”

Kuppa and Antani embody such a global expansion.

Both have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from out-of-state donors with strong links to — or actual leadership roles in — groups like the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (the American wing of the RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (the US wing of the religious wing of the RSS), and the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (a registered foreign agent which serves as the American wing of India’s ruling BJP, itself the political wing of the RSS). Both have repeatedly attended or spoken at events in support of Modi as well as hosted by HSS and VHPA — even as their fellow Hindu elected officials (even those few with RSS ties, such as former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard) declined to do so due to the nature of the events. Most recently, Antani and Kuppa joined each other at a November 2019 VHPA conference in Boston.

It seems that the vehement denunciations of the DGH conference by Padma Kuppa and Niraj Antani are rooted in their own fear that, considering their strong ties to RSS elements in America, they themselves may fall prey to the effort to dismantle global Hindutva.

The DGH conference continues to face an onslaught of attacks by pro-Hindutva elements around the world, yet the organizers refuse to back down. “Despite a massive campaign of disinformation, support for this timely conference on Hindutva ideology has only grown,” they report. Over 70 entities from 53 universities are co-sponsoring the event. In the face of criticism, around 1,000 academics and intellectuals have signed on in support.

The conference, hosted virtually, takes place from 9:30am to 3pm EST on 10–12 September.

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.