Indian-Americans to Biden: Vet Appointees for RSS-BJP Links

“As India plunges further into authoritarian rule, the need for the American government to speak out against human rights violations in the country — and take steps to counteract it — will only grow more stark,” wrote 19 Indian-American organizations in a letter to US President-Elect Joe Biden.

Describing the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as “an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu paramilitary organization that believes India is a country solely for Hindus,” the letter warns: “The BJP and RSS have long sought to influence — and infiltrate — American politics through its affiliate diaspora organizations.” Furthermore, the letter notes that “many South Asian-Americans individuals with ties to far-right Hindu organizations in India are affiliated with the Democratic party.” It argues that “anyone who receives funding from or makes public statements in support of the BJP, RSS, and its affiliates — including their American chapters — are ​entirely complicit ​in the rise of authoritarianism and ethnonationalist violence in India.”

Click to read full letter (PDF)

Though not directly referenced, such individuals within the Democratic Party likely include failed congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni, recently retired US Congressional Representative Tulsi Gabbard, and sitting US Congressional Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, all of whom have heavily documented ties to the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (HSS-USA), the RSS’s American wing. Examples of “infiltration” may include a recent HSS-USA event in California which was attended by eight local mayors and vice-mayors — just one of many occasions where RSS’s American wing has sought publicity and normalization by interfacing with local, state, and federal government officials.

Two individuals named in the letter are Amit Jani and Sonal Shah.

Jani, who served as the Biden campaign’s National Asian American and Pacific Islander Director, was originally the campaign’s Muslim Outreach Coordinator. He stirred controversy, and was removed from that position, after it emerged that he is the son of the co-founder of Overseas Friends of the BJP USA (OFBJP-USA). OFBJP-USA was, in August 2020, registered as a “foreign agent.” Jani’s family, via the RSS, has deep ties to BJP Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who is accused of orchestrating an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 — and Jani himself has overtly praised Modi as well as celebrated his mother’s role in working from America to help re-elect the controversial premier.

Shah, who served on the Biden campaign’s Unity Task Force, caused division in 2008 when she was named to then President-Elect Barack Obama’s transition team. A long-time organizer for Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), the American wing of India’s VHP (itself the religious wing of the RSS), her appointment was initially celebrated in Indian media due to her “RSS roots.” Her father, Ramesh Shah, was OFBJP-USA president as recently as 2017, is known for traveling to India since at least the mid-1990s to support the BJP’s election bids, and is the founder of Ekal Vidyalaya, an RSS-linked educational initiative for which she continues to fundraise.

“We are concerned about certain Indian-American individuals who are proximate to your Presidential administration,” states the letter in reference to Jani and Shah. “These individuals purport to uphold the values of the Democratic Party in the context of American politics; however, they also advance the ideology and political interests of violent, extremist Hindu Nationalist groups in India, essentially serving as their foreign agents.”

The letter concludes:

“We urge that you thoroughly screen all individuals offering advice to, lobbying, vying for a position within, or in any way engaging with your administration. Specifically, there should be no tolerance for any individuals who uphold any form of supremacist belief, including in Hindu supremacy, both in India and the US…. It is important that future appointments be vetted for clear alignment on the issue of secularism, both in the US and Indian context.”

The letter additionally urges the upcoming Biden administration to back congressional resolutions in support of human rights in Kashmir as well as in celebration of Dalit civil rights champion Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and to add caste as a “protected category” in federal civil rights law.

Signatories include Hindus for Human Rights, Ambedkar King Study Circle, Indian American Muslim Council, Ambedkar International Center, Justice for All, Association of Indian Muslims of America, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and more.

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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.