Pieter Friedrich | Clarion India
In a video footage leaked from a political house party held to support Sri Preston Kulkarni’s campaign for Congress in TX-22, the former diplomat pleads ignorance of India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Kulkarni is facing allegations of intimate ties to the RSS’s American affiliates, particularly focused on claims that the Vice-President of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (HSS-USA) — the American wing of the Indian paramilitary — organized instrumental financial support for Kulkarni’s first campaign in 2018. Kulkarni has called the HSS executive, Ramesh Bhutada, “like a father to me.” Furthermore, approximately 30 percent of the donations Kulkarni received before winning the Democratic Party’s nomination for TX-22 in 2018 came from individuals known for holding executive positions in US affiliates of the RSS, campaigning for the election of RSS activist Narendra Modi to the prime ministership in India, and more.
Kulkarni, however, says he did not know what the RSS was as recently as two years ago. In the video, he states:
“And… and… I will say too, I never thought about this. I didn’t know about all this, like all this RSS stuff, to be honest. If you had asked me two years ago… if you had asked me two years ago, I would have said it stands for Real Symbol Syndication. Because I… I was born, I didn’t know what this word even meant. Honestly, and I’ve… I’ve had to learn about all these things.”
Kulkarni’s claim to be ignorant about the RSS, however, falls flat considering he is a 14-year veteran of the US Foreign Service whose next posting — before he resigned to run for Congress — was supposed to be at the US Embassy in New Delhi. Any diplomat posted to India would be expected to have basic knowledge of Indian politics, which would certainly include awareness of the RSS and the significance it plays in India today.
Furthermore, Kulkarni is the nephew of Pramod Mahajan, an Indian politician who was — until his murder in 2006 — one of the key leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the political wing of the RSS. Mahajan was an RSS member since childhood and, in the mid-1970s, joined the paramilitary as a pracharak (full-time worker). Mahajan’s daughter — and Kulkarni’s cousin — Poonam is currently a BJP member of parliament.
Moreover, Kulkarni grew up in Houston, which is a major hub of RSS in America activity, most of which is spear-headed by Kulkarni’s major donor, Ramesh Bhutada, and his network. Writing for the local Houston Chronicle, Bhutada has praised “Modi’s upbringing in the culture of RSS,” insisting that “critics should revisit the RSS.” Reportage on Bhutada, a prominent national figure in the Indian-American community, invariably highlights his role not only as VP of HSS-USA but also the HSS’s connection to the RSS.
Beyond that, Kulkarni himself has actually attended HSS events in Houston — such as on 2 June 2018, less than two weeks after winning the nomination in the 2018 primaries.
Kulkarni’s attempt to plead ignorance of the RSS doesn’t hold up under examination and places him in the position of either being an incompetent diplomat or else actually lying about his knowledge vis-a-vis the RSS.
(The Writer is is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Clarion India.)