Re-Defining US-India Relations

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Nothing diminishes “Modi love” among his following in the US–not even TIME magazine’s designation of Modi as a “Divider-in-Chief”, neither the ‘Intolerant India” Economist cover page. — AFP file photo

The embarrassment Modi has brought to the Indian nation is so evident, yet the Modi faithfuls remain dismissive of the criticism

DR SAMINA SALIM | Clarion India

DESPITE Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s awful record on human rights, failed economic policies, totalitarian international image and his controversial role in the pandemic, the popularity he enjoys among the Indian masses remains untouched. By most Indians, he is regarded as a well-meaning saintly figure with the national interest at heart.

Although a national leader, he seldom holds any press conferences, and prefers delivering an emotionally-charged monologue via televised theatrics. The stupor he has cast over the masses is incredible. Perhaps, the aspirations for a promised land, the “Hindu Rashtra” are above and beyond the excesses of desperation and poverty of the common man.

And, the common man seems okay with a life of desperation as long as the dream of a holy land is realised. Fulfilment of this dream calls for destroying everything that India as a nation was built on. A popular postulation is that Modi can deliver this promise. So what if the soul of the nation is lost! Secularism is the first to go, followed by the rest of the Gandhian principles. Shocking, right?

‘Divider-in Chief’

What is even more shocking is his following in the United States (US) among the Indian diaspora. Nothing diminishes “Modi love” among his following in the US–not even TIME magazine’s designation of Modi as a “Divider-in-Chief”, neither the ‘Intolerant India” Economist cover page, nor the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)’s recommendation for listing India as a country of particular concern (CPC).

From the point of view of Modi fans, this is all leftist-Islamist conspiracy of defamation. The USCIRF 2019 India report cited 8,000 incidents of religiously-motivated killings and/or assaults on Muslims, Christians and Dalit, and criticised increased use of state power to legitimise violation of human rights through passing of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), suppression of civil dissent, threats to academic institutions, extrajudicial killings, repression in Kashmir, and widespread media distortion.

At least 14 US senators have called to implement USCIRF’s recommendation to list India as a CPC. The embarrassment Modi has brought to the Indian nation is so evident, yet the Modi faithfuls remain dismissive of the criticism.

Over the last several years, Modi’s influence on the Indian diaspora in the US has become a matter of grave concern primarily considering his close association with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), a Nazi-inspired fascist paramilitary organisation founded in 1925 in India. RSS was banned thrice in India due to its militant ideology and its involvement in incitement of violence and disharmony.

The RSS rejects progressive principles of equality and favours “Hindutva” encompassing ancient Hindu canons of caste supremacy, misogyny and second-class status for the non-Hindus. Modi’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is an offshoot of RSS. The New Jersey-based non-profit organisation called Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) was instrumental in getting Modi elected as India’s Prime Minister in 2014 and then his re-election in 2019.

Furthermore, the Hindu American Foundation, (HAF) is one of the many Hindu nationalist organisations active in the US, including the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (HSS). Although HSS claims to be an independent American organization, it is, in fact, an RSS subsidiary and aggressively promotes “Hindutva”, both in India and overseas, through millions of supporters with a whopping budget of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Kashmir valley

Gradually, the RSS-HSS-HAF-OFBJP coalition has imported RSS’s divisive agenda to the US and is beginning to receive the serious scrutiny they deserve. The chain of events is quite telling. The sequelae is systematic. On August 5, 2019, the revocation of Article 370 converted the entire Kashmir valley into a prison overnight.

The Indian-American community was urged to promote and legitimise revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy. While there was widespread condemnation from around the world, the OFBJP-USA President Krishna Reddy called August 5, 2019, a historic day for the government led by Modi who, according to OFBJP-USA, had corrected the historic error.

In September 2019, Modi traveled to the US and conducted a symbolic endorsement of an equally divisive leader Donald Trump at the “Howdy Modi” event in Houston, Texas. Following Modi’s US visit, the passing of a Nuremberg law equivalent, the CAA, took place in December 2019 in India.

Surprisingly, a celebration of the enactment of this exclusionary law was in full public view on the American streets in the form of support rallies organised by the RSS-HSS-HAF coalition in over 30 American cities. More alarming to note was the Houston (Texas) incident, where the Indian consulate premises were used by Modi fans (RSS-HSS-HAF volunteers and BJP sympathisers) to make death threats against Muslims (“Goli maro saloon ko”: Shoot all Muslims) and incitement to rape Muslim women.

Anti-Muslim pogrom

In February this year, India’s BJP General Secretary B L Santhosh threatened the then Presidential candidate, senator Bernie Sanders, with US election interference. The threat by Santhosh was in response to Sanders slamming US President Donald Trump over the anti-Muslim pogrom in North-East Delhi, calling it “a failure of leadership on human rights.” India’s meddling in American politics deserves serious investigation.

Reports have emerged of close ties of RSS through its proxy alliance HSS-HAF with several American politicians, including Tulsi Gabbard, US representative from 2nd district of Hawaii, Raja Krishnamoorti, representative from Illinois’s 8th congressional district, and Sri Preston Kulkarni, candidate for Texas’s 22nd congressional district. Indian meddling in American elections through RSS-HSS-HAF coalition is alarming. The replication of the RSS agenda must not be allowed on American soil.

An example of this danger was exhibited on August 5, 2020 when New York City became a venue for celebration of a controversial judicial decision in India. In the middle of a global pandemic, what was the urgency for this public celebration by the Indian diaspora? Clearly, for the jubilant, this is one step closer to the promised land. Earlier, the Supreme Court of India issued a verdict on the 16th century Babri Mosque, permitting construction of a Hindu temple of Lord Ram, in place of a historical mosque.

August 5, 2020 was chosen for the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the temple, hence the irresponsible and disrespectful decision for a celebration at Times Square by the Indian diaspora. Sadly, the Indian diaspora is divided. Those that are critical of such irresponsible actions are trolled, called profanities on social media and labelled as “Islamists”, “Jihadists”, ‘Secularists”, and “Nehruists”. One only hopes for sense to prevail and homeland security and intelligence to do its job.

Foul play

The awareness and revelation of the potential foul play is bearing results. In August, the OFBJP-USA reportedly registered itself under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), with the US Department of Justice (DOJ). The registration implies that the OFBJP-USA will be required “to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities,”

The FARA enforcement unit functions within the DOJ’s National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. In the past, DOJ had enforced FARA by sending out notices to suspected foreign agents to either register under the Act or stop representing foreign principals.

The RSS-BJP’s aggressive outreach in the US through its proxy groups OFBJP, HSS and HAF, has done more harm than good to US-India relations and has inflicted significant damage to its international image of a stable, peaceful nation.

This should give the Modi government a pause, and, perhaps, the impetus to go back to the drawing board and ponder if the RSS-BJP hate agenda is more advantageous or Gandhi’s peaceful co-existence more beneficial for India’s prestige and position on the international stage.

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Samina Salim, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacological & Pharmaceutical Sciences, H ouston College of Pharmacy. She was born in Lucknow and raised in Aligarh and moved to the United States in 1999. The views expressed here are author’s own and Clarion India does not necessarily share or subscribe to them.

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