Manga Anantatmula: Modi is “Best Thing That Ever Happened to India”

Congressional candidate wants to sue US politicians who discuss Indian human rights

“We have a friend in the White House, and we would like that to continue,” Dinesh Agarwal recently told The Indian Express. “More and more, traditionally democratic Indian Americans, especially of my generation, are moving towards Trump.

Agarwal spoke as a co-founder of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), a group that operates in the US as the international wing of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Within a segment of the Indian-American diaspora, there’s a distinct swing to the right. In Virginia, US congressional candidate Manga Anantatmula is one example. “She moved away from the Democratic party and joined the Republicans in 2016 after the presidential elections,” reports ThePrint. As Manga puts it, “This time a large number of Democratic party supporters are moving towards the Republican party because of the current political situation and due to the successful policies of President Donald Trump.”

Manga’s admiration for Trump mirrors her admiration for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the BJP. Trump and Modi, she writes, are the “two best things that ever happened to India and US.” She warns that “radical Islamists who want to take over the world” have placed both Modi and Trump at the “top of their list.” And, she advises, Modi “is our ally.”

A prolific Twitter commentator, Manga’s pet issues include advancing an India versus Pakistan narrative in which Pakistan is always evil and India — as long its ruled by the BJP — can never do wrong. “We need to let the world know that Pakistan is a terrorist state,” she said when she joined a protest outside Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington, DC in 2019. She even describes Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as a “terrorist.”

Yet, when the US Commission on International Religious Freedom warned in April 2020 that, worldwide, “perhaps the steepest, and most alarming, deterioration in religious freedom conditions was in India,” Manga denounced the USCIRF as “radical Islamist.” She has a history of targeting the commission, which has grown increasingly critical of the human rights situation in Modi-ruled India. “This is a useless agency that’s only causing problem,” she says. Calling it an “Islam-leaning agency,” she claims, “They are only favoring Islamists.”

Those remarks came in 2019 in direct response to the USCIRF’s report on religious freedom conditions in India. “Conditions for religious minorities in India have deteriorated,” explained the report. “A multifaceted campaign by Hindu nationalist groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)… to alienate non-Hindus or lower-caste Hindus is a significant contributor to the rise of religious violence and persecution.” The report further warned that Hindu nationalist elements want to see “all non-Hindus expelled, killed, or converted to Hinduism.”

Yet Manga insists that “USCIRF is ruining this country.” As an example, she points to the commission’s report on the 2019 lynching of a Muslim man in India’s state of Jharkhand who was tied to a tree, forced to chant Hindu slogans, and beaten to death. To Manga, however, highlighting this atrocious crime — one of many similar and increasing incidents — constitutes “minority appeasement.”

Her opposition to the USCIRF and its analysis of the human rights situation in India, however, puts her at odds at times even within the Republican Party. Trump has infamously aligned himself with Modi, even joining the controversial BJP politician at the “Howdy Modi” mega-reception in Houston, Texas in 2019. Yet this year, 14 US Senators sent a letter to the State Department urging it to follow the USCIRF’s recommendation to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern.” Ten of them were Republicans.

Manga’s support for all of the Modi regime’s most recent and most controversial actions undergird her complaints about the USCIRF.

“Anantatmula had also backed the Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir in August last year,” reports ThePrint. The draconian lockdown that followed — including the mass arrest and indefinite mention without charges of virtually the entire civil society — left Kashmir something of a black hole, and yet reports that did emerge in Indian media include accounts of security forces torturing detainees in villages and broadcasting their screams over loudspeakers to terrorize the populace. Yet, Manga claims, “Muslims are paid to create violence in Kashmir.

She also backs the BJP’s Citizenship Amendment Act — which USCIRF warned “enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion” — as well as its proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). The NRC would require every citizen of India to prove their citizenship. These laws, combined, have been explained as a way for the BJP to begin cleansing the land of Muslims — and, ultimately, of all non-Hindus — and even described by prominent Indian activists like Arundhati Roy as the new “Nuremberg Laws,” a reference to the legislation in Nazi Germany that stripped Jews of citizenship.

“Article 370, CAA, and NRC,” says Manga. “That’s absolutely the internal matter of India. We don’t need to engage there…. Our elected officials, they should keep themselves totally out of what’s happening in India.” In fact, she is so steadfastly opposed to any discussion of the human rights situation in India — describing US politicians who talk about it as “going out of their bounds” — that she insists those who discuss it should be “slapped hard with a heavy and big lawsuit.”

Manga’s staunch opposition to any discussion of Indian human rights and her staunch support for the Modi regime’s Hindu nationalist agenda has earned the backing of Americans 4 Hindus Political Action Committee, which has supplied over ten percent of her campaign financing. The PAC is heavily financed by leaders of the OFBJP as well as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (HSS-USA), the American wing of the RSS.

Its key donors include people like Bharat Barai, a long-time champion of Modi who worked to reverse his ban from the US and led a team of hundreds to India to help get him elected in 2014. Others include Subhash Gupta of the HSS and Chandru Bhambhra, also of the HSS but once the president of the OFBJP, as well as HSS-linked Modi apologist Mihir Meghani. While the PAC they finance is giving almost exclusively to Republicans, donors like Barai and Meghani are remarkably transpartisan in their political donations.

Both Republican and Democrats have spoken out with concern about the growing human rights crisis in India. Standing up for human rights in India not a partisan issue. Neither, however, are the attempts of Modi apologists to field candidates willing to cover up for human rights violations in India, as exemplified by Manga’s candidacy.

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

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