WASHINGTON – Indian American friends of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the ruling BJP are facing growing scrutiny from US authorities under a law that requires Americans working for or on behalf of foreign governments or entities to register themselves and their organisations as “foreign agents”.
Investigations are currently understood to be underway against an unspecified number of Indian Americans, who include one person who has claimed to be a long-time friend and supporter of the Indian Prime Minister and who has been at the forefront of many diaspora rallies and outreach involving Modi and senior members of his cabinet.
There was no response from him to a request for an interview.
A spokesperson for the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice that administers the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) that has triggered these investigations, refused to confirm or deny whether two Indian Americans — specifically named in the request — were being investigated under FARA.
“Please note that the FARA Unit does not issue advisory opinions to third parties, or provide comment on any activities the staff conducts in its efforts to enforce the Act,” the spokesperson replied in a written response.
Just this past July, a Texas-based organisation became the second organisation set up by Indian Americans to register themselves under FARA – Ethos Foundation (DBA – Bharati Foundation). Its office-bearers are a US-based Indian citizen and two Americans of Indian descent. It was not immediately clear if the organization was forced to register itself under FARA by US authorities or did so voluntarily.
In its registration form, the organisation listed Kishore Poreddy, describing hims as the official Spokesperson of BJP, as the person it engages with, and listed the address of the foreign principal — the BJP — as Nampally Hyderabad, Telangana, India.
The organisation said its aim is to “communicate with NRIs (non-Resident Indians) and bring political awareness about their Mother country which is India”.
To that end, it said, its activities are limited to “just helping the Foreign Principal (the BJP) to gain (the) confidence of (the) Indian diaspora so that it can help them in their elections in India”.
About services rendered for the foreign principal — the BJP, it said it “will help communicate with Indian diaspora which would help Indians have awareness of India and its politicians and cultural ambassadors, that would help Indian Diaspora get in touch with Indian cultural and political ambassadors and won’t be in darkness about their native country”.
Overseas Friends of BJP-USA was the first organisation formed by Indian Americans that was forced to register itself with the US Justice Department under FARA in August 2020, along with its three office-bearers, who are all naturalised American citizens of Indian descent. One of them shared the stage with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar at a diaspora outreach during his last visit to Washington DC in September.
The Overseas Friends of BJP was embroiled at the time in a controversy arising from the use of a bulldozer in a rally it had organised in New Jersey state to commemorate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Critics slammed the bulldozer as a deliberate ploy to bring India’s divisive politics to the US as it has become a symbol of the oppression of minorities in India. A coalition of advocacy groups of Muslims and African Americans is demanding a multi-agency probe by the FBI and CIA of the growing visibility of Indian right-wing politics in the US.
The Overseas Friends of BJP cited the BJP as the “foreign principal” that it represents and works for in its FARA registration form declared in its FARA registration form, situated at 6-A Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, New Delhi, India 110002.
Vijay Chauthaiwale, BJP office-bearer in charge of the department of foreign affairs, was listed as the person the Overseas Friends of BJP engages with.
The organization said it engages with the foreign principal – the BJP – “on its own initiative and receives no compensation for its efforts”.
It described its activities as setting up and supporting “local chapters in the US to project an accurate and positive image of India and promote the BJP in the US”.
Lobbying the US government and Congress by American citizens on behalf of foreign governments and entities is legitimate in the US. But individuals and entities involved in these activities should register with the US Justice Department and also file quarterly disclosures with US Congress detailing their clients, services offered and fees charged.
BGR Government Affairs, for instance, is a long-time Republican-leaning lobbyist for the government of India, directly employed by the Indian embassy in Washington, which is listed as the “foreign principal” in the registration papers. “The nature and method of performance of the contract will include strategic counsel and outreach with regard to government relations and public relations activity within the US. This may include relevant outreach to US media, government officials, non-government organisations and other individuals within the US. Additionally, it may include dissemination of informational materials,” the organisation said in its most recent registration form. It’s chargng the Indian government prospectively $300,000 for a six-month period starting October, 2022 and ending in March 2023.
But the Overseas Friends of BJP and Ethos Foundation have stated their services to the BJP are free, and they get no compensation from their “foreign principal”, the BJP.
The growing scrutiny of BJP’s and Modi government’s Indian American friends has rattled the Indian community at large, and many of them who are active in the advocacy of India-US relations have become wary of what they say and do, some of them said in interviews on condition of anonymity. -IANS