How the Hindutva lobbying campaign spread to the United States

CJ Werleman explores the growing influence of radical Hindu nationalists in American politics

While the influence of pressure groups associated with guns, pharmaceutical companies and defense contractors in the United States is well known, the growing reach of the Hindutva lobby has gone almost completely under the radar – even in the United States. avoiding progressive Democrats, who generally have a keen eye on human rights concerns.

A glimpse of a growing problem within the global Indian diaspora was revealed earlier this month, when the Washington post published an article titled: “Under Fire from Hindu Nationalist Groups, US-Based South Asian Academics Concerned About Academic Freedom.”

The authors described how American journalists, human rights activists and academics, who attended the first-ever major online conference on Hindutva (a form of Hindu nationalism) in the United States – “Dismantling of Global Hindutva ”- have been the target of rape and death threats, while universities, including Harvard and Stanford, have been subjected to nearly a million emails and thousands of spam emails.

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF), a soundless organization involving official representation of Hindus among the American Indian population, was a key player in the email campaign. But, even by HAF’s own admission, “Hindutva is not the same as Hinduism.”

HAF is also leading efforts to cajole and coerce U.S. lawmakers to support policies favorable to India’s ruling party – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – and the radical Hindutva movement.

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In fact, the current Indian government is inseparable from the HAF. The organization’s founding board member, Dr Mihir Meghani, is the author of the ideological manifesto, Hindutva – the great nationalist ideology, who guides both the BJP and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In defining the Hindutva ideology, Dr Meghani calls India the “land of the Hindus”, suggesting that the Muslim presence in India is the result of “Islamic invasions” and “forced conversions”, while glorifying the destruction of India. the Babri mosque.

Prior to co-founding HAF, Dr Meghani was active in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), having previously served on its board of directors. The VHP-A claims to be guided by “the same values ​​and ideals” as those of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of India, an organization designated as a militant religious organization by the CIA, and cited as the author of sectarian violence in several American states. Department reports on religious freedom.

Dr Meghani is also associated with several other Hindu extremist groups, such as Sanatan Sanstha (SS) and its Hindu affiliate Janajagruti Samiti (HJS), which is currently under active investigation for involvement in terrorist activities and assassinations of liberal intellectuals.

In 2010, HJS recognized Dr Meghani’s contributions with an award recognizing his “selfless service to humanity through values ​​and solutions based on Hinduism”.

Other HAF leaders, including Dr Meghani’s co-founder Aseem Shukla, defended the slaughter of more than 2,000 Muslims at the hands of Hindu nationalist activists organized during the Gujarat riots of 2002. He and other members of the HAF HAF also attacked major human rights organizations. , including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, for their respective critiques of human rights violations committed by Hindu nationalists.

India’s war on MuslimsIntensifies in plain sight

Over the years, the HAF has been a staunch and consistent apologist for India’s mistreatment of religious minorities, including pressuring US lawmakers to back down a congressional resolution condemning India’s dismissal. of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status in 2019, and its human rights violations in the disputed Muslim-majority territory.

Working in tandem with the Indian Embassy in Washington DC, HAF has also been successful in lobbying US lawmakers to adopt pro-government Indian talking points related to Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a discriminatory law targeting Muslims.

“The American Hindu Foundation, known among progressive and minority groups from South America to Southeast Asia for using intimidation and spreading false information to counter their advocacy work, has been at the forefront of strengthening the embassy’s efforts – dissuading members of Congress from taking critical positions on India and posing as a liberal representative of the American Indian community, ”observed Interception Last year.

The HAF has also been a strong advocate of anti-conversion laws, designed to prevent Muslim men from marrying Hindu women, while it is hypocritically silent on forced conversions to Hinduism, as well as campaigns for “Hinduism” carried out by Hindutva organizations.

Ultimately, HAF functions as a sanitized front for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the largest paramilitary organization in India and the world, which was founded in 1925 to inspire a revolution against British colonial rule but without the cooperation of Muslims, including its founder Kashav Baliram Hedgewar called “snakes” and “anti-national”.

One of the main strategies adopted by the HAF is to inspire supporters online to swarm critics and opponents of Hindu nationalism with vicious but baseless slanders, as well as threats of violence, inciting a group of academics in America of the North to publish the “Hindutva Harassment Field Manual,” a guide for academics, journalists and human rights activists who become “the target of hate.”

“Part of the problem is that most people in America have never heard of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism. However, this has changed over the past two years due to the acceleration of the Modi regime’s human rights violations which have increasingly attracted international attention, ”said Audrey Trushke, South Asian historian. and Associate Professor at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.

The other part of the problem is American lawmakers. Many people have been fooled into believing that the HAF stands for Hinduism and not Hindutva, which means the United States is asleep when it comes to identifying the threats such ideology poses to religious minorities.

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