US Congressional Candidate Joins Hindu Nationalist Fundraiser
Bob Lancia, Rhode Island, speaks at annual fundraising gala for VHP-America project
When HinduPACT held its annual fundraising gala on 1 May 2022, one of their main speakers was US Congressional candidate Bob Lancia, who is running as a Republican for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District.
HinduPACT is a project of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), which is the US wing of India’s VHP. That group, declared a “religious militant” outfit by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2018, is itself the religious wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary. Both the RSS and the VHP — in India — have been repeatedly implicated, over decades, in staging pogroms against Christians and Muslims.
Lancia’s presence is not the only one that raised eyebrows, however. Also joining the fundraising gala as a speaker is Zainab Zeb Khan, chair of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA). Her participation is not only shocking considering VHPA’s links to the virulently anti-Muslim VHP, but also that one of HinduPACT’s most recent initiatives is a campaign opposing the US Congress’s proposed Combating International Islamophobia Act.
The act, which seeks to establish a US government office to monitor and combat Islamophobia, was introduced in the US House of Representatives in 2021 by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. After passing in December 2021, it was sent to the US Senate for their consideration. One of the most prominent organizations backing it is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The only major opposition to the act is from HinduPACT as well as figures like Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch. Spencer, warns the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Extremist Files database, is “one of America’s most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists.”
Khan not only heads MALA, but is also reportedly an Advisory Board Member for “Exploring Hate,” a Public Broadcasting Service program focused on topics such as racism and political extremism in the United States and the world. Thus, her presence at a fundraiser for a project organized by the US wing of one of the world’s most Islamophobic outfits boggles the mind.
Lancia’s presence, however, is more easily explained. Not only has his campaign benefited greatly from donations from supporters of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but he has repeatedly participated in their events.
Before launching his congressional campaign late last year, Lancia served from 2015 to 2018 in Rhode Island’s House of Representatives. After losing his first attempt for US Congress in 2020, he’s giving it another go. His fundraising — although meager to date — owes much of its success to his single largest campaign financier: pro-Hindu nationalist entrepreneur Prashanth Palakurthi.
Palakurthi has poured $7,000 into Lancia’s campaigns since 2020, representing over 15 percent of the candidate’s total fundraising.
Lancia is not the only beneficiary of Palakurthi’s largesse, however. In December 2020, Palakurthi contributed $250,000 to Ekal Vidyalaya, another VHPA project which sets up allegedly RSS-run schools in India. Earlier, in February 2020, he opened up his home for a meet and greet for the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP); the US wing of India’s BJP, the OFBJP was, seven months later, compelled to register as a Foreign Agent in the US.
Perhaps most notably, Lancia — apparently traveling from Rhode Island — also attended the Boston-based OFBJP event. A month later, Palakurthi made his first donation to the congressional candidate’s campaign.
Lancia’s association with Hindu nationalist outfits and BJP supporters has run deep for at least the past three years.
Most recently, he attended a December 2021 Rhode Island premiere of “Kashmir Files,” a propaganda film — produced by BJP supporter Vivek Agnihotri — whose purpose has been described as “to inflame hatred against Muslims.” Pictured with Agnihotri, Lancia presented him a citation celebrating the film. Speaking at HinduPACT’s gala, Lancia declared that the film is “something that needs to be seen by everybody.”
Earlier, in September 2021, Lancia traveled to New York City to join a crowd of cheering BJP supporters who welcomed visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi outside his hotel. Reportedly, he spoke at the event.
He also got a chance to get “blessed” by Modi, as he proudly Tweeted a picture of the premier touching his head.
In January 2020, he attended a car rally organized in support of the BJP’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Described by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom as an act which “enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion,” passage of the CAA prompted months-long protests across India by hundreds of thousands. The protests eventually climaxed in February 2020 in an anti-Muslim pogrom instigated by BJP officials in Delhi.
In December 2019, Lancia attended another Boston-based event held to celebrate the Indian Supreme Court’s controversial verdict upholding the right to build a Ram Mandir over the ruins of the historic Babri Mosque, which was destroyed by RSS and VHP mobs in 1992. After demolishing the mosque, Hindu nationalist mobs subsequently staged pogroms against Muslims throughout India, killing thousands.
At the 2019 event, Lancia was a “special guest” alongside then VHPA President Abhaya Asthana.
At the HinduPACT gala, Lancia — along with Zainab Zeb Khan — spoke alongside current VHPA President Ajay Shah. Perhaps his presence at yet another Hindu nationalist event will earn Lancia yet more campaign financing from Palakurthi and others, but it certainly won’t earn him any points for principle.