WASHINGTON – Some US-based Hindu far-right organizations were involved in preventing the Chicago City Council from passing a resolution condemning the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act and discrimination against Muslims under Narendra Modi dispensation, revealed a report released by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).
Unveiling the groundbreaking report during an event held in Chicago early this week, the IAMC demanded an investigation into the interference of the far-right Hindu groups in the American political process.
The report sheds light on the strategies employed by these groups, which include hiring lobbyists, collaborating with anti-Muslim entities, spreading false information, influencing elected officials, and operating under the guise of a “bogus secular front organization”.
The report delved into the details exposed during a Facebook live conversation between Bharat Barai, a Hindu far-right leader based in Illinois, and Amitabh Mittal, the General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA), the American offshoot of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). This conversation, live-streamed by VHPA, meticulously outlines the campaign aimed at thwarting a resolution that denounced the CAA as “inherently discriminatory.”
They launched a multi-pronged effort in Chicago to put massive pressure on the city council to vote against the resolution by disguising their efforts under a false front. This was achieved by establishing a “secular” group called the US-India Friendship Council, which Barai claimed could be used to, “argue that [the resolution] will impact the friendship between the two countries.” They hired lobbyist Joe Moore, a former Chicago Alderman who played a decisive role in influencing city aldermen against the resolution.
Amit Kumar, the then-Consul General of India in Chicago, was asked by the group to write letters pressuring the city council to oppose the resolution. Right-wing Hindu American influencers were also asked to write blog posts on a myriad of websites to bolster the group’s argument, revealed the report, describing it as an “unethical alliance”.
Four days before the vote, hundreds of WhatsApp messages were sent urging people to oppose the resolution. The group also created 17 different versions of email petitions, which would send all 50 aldermen emails with “one click,” resulting in each alderman receiving five to seven thousand emails.
“Most alarmingly, the group worked closely with blatantly anti-Muslim groups such as the Middle East Forum, a widely known Islamophobic think tank, to spread the false narrative that the resolution was sponsored by “terrorist” groups. The groups in question, however, were well-established Muslim advocacy groups that were maliciously labeled by Barai and his associates with harmful Islamophobic terms,” said the release.
Barai added that the US-India Friendship Council pushed the false claim that rising anti-Muslim violence in India “was an outright lie.”
The resolution’s lead sponsor, Ald. Maria Hadden, was targeted and portrayed as a bigoted person by the group, including Barai himself, who left a comment targeting her sexual orientation. The group also protested outside of Hadden’s office and held up signs accusing her of spreading hate.
Several advocacy experts spoke at a special briefing about the exposé. Hatem Bazian, a renowned scholar of religion, politics, and globalization, claimed that the defeat of the resolution occurred through the use of organized Islamophobia. He called for an investigation into the US-India Friendship Council and the VHPA.
“We need to pose the question, are [these groups] acting as agents of a foreign government in the United States, interfering in the political process?” Bazian said. “I would say… to actually file a complaint against the VHP of America as well as the US India Friendship Council, and [investigate] whether they were actually acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government interfering in the democratic process in America.”
“For the past several years, we’ve witnessed these US-based organizations and activists with ties to Hindutva working to minimize criticism and dilute efforts to combat these Islamophobic or even anti-Dalit acts of intimidation or trends of discrimination,” said Robert Mccall, government affairs director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR). “This isn’t just a matter of words and ideology. It’s about upholding the values of respect, diversity and justice that we as a nation hold dear.”
“The current regime in India has a policy of using the diaspora in the US to advance their agenda domestically,” said John Prabhudoss, Chairman of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA). “What we should be focusing on is how Hindu nationalists are hijacking US policies and what impact this [interference] will have.”
Sunita Vishwanath, the co-founder of the advocacy group Hindus for Human Rights, said: “My primary concern isn’t merely about those orchestrating these shameful and unscrupulous manoeuvres. It’s about us, the broader Hindu community, and our predisposition to be swayed by such distortions… We are willfully blind to the atrocities taking place all around us, atrocities taking place in our name.”