NEW DELHI—Following news that the Consul General of India’s Toronto consulate recently keynoted a Hindu nationalist event, evidence is emerging that over a dozen Indian diplomats in nine countries have participated in similar events over the past few years.
Consul General Dinesh Bhatia sparked outrage in some sections for sharing the stage with garlanded pictures of K.B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar, the first leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Known as Sarsanghchalaks (Supreme Leaders), Hedgewar and Golwalkar wanted India to be a Hindu nation and formed the RSS into a paramilitary to propagate Hindu nationalism. However, an investigation by Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) reveals that a number of other consular officials have also recently participated in their official capacity in similar Hindu nationalist events.
“From North America to Europe and Asia to South America, Indian ambassadors and consuls have appeared as honored guests, keynote speakers, and even co-hosts of events organized by the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh — the international wing of the RSS — as well as events organized by the RSS’s religious wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and occasionally even by the international wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party,” reports OFMI spokesperson Arvin Valmuci. “We have compiled evidence that 15 Indian diplomats in nine countries have spoken at 24 different Sangh Parivar events since 2013, most in just the last two years. On at least two occasions, a diplomat joined a top RSS executive at an event — on another two occasions, a diplomat joined a top executive of the VHP. Our data is not comprehensive and we are certain that Indian diplomats are collaborating with the RSS on a far larger scale than even what we’ve uncovered so far.”
Most recently, on November 4, 2018, High Commissioner Venkatachalam Mahalingam of India’s Guyana commission spoke at an event organized by the HSS in Georgetown. He shared the stage with HSS Sanghchalak (President) Ravi Dev.
On October 27, 2018, Consul General Swati Kulkarni of India’s Atlanta consulate was the chief guest at an HSS-organized event commemorating Hedgewar’s founding of the RSS. She shared the stage with keynote speaker HSS International Coordinator Saumitra Gokhale. According to a biographical sketch of Gokhale, “He worked as a Pracharak (full-time worker) of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) for 4+ years in India. Since 1999 onwards, he has been working as a Pracharak of HSS (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh) in Caribbean countries, Canada, and the United States of America. Based currently in the USA, he is the global coordinator for HSS activities.”
On September 29, 2018, Consul General Puneet Agrawal of India’s Hong Kong consulate was the guest of honor at an event jointly organized by the HSS and VHP. “It’s both an honor and a privilege for me to present here today,” said Agrawal as he shared the stage with HSS Sanghchalak (President) Jaiprakash Goel.
On June 30, 2018, Honorary Consul Bhav Dhillon of India’s Auckland consulate was the chief guest at an event jointly organized by the HSS and Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP). He shared the stage with HSS President Pravin Patel. It was Dhillon’s third time this year collaborating with the OFBJP. Previously, on June 1 and on May 19, he coordinated meetings between OFBJP leaders and visiting BJP politicians; the May meeting occurred at the consulate.
On June 8, 2018, Consul S. Vivekananthan of India’s Munich consulate spoke at an HSS-organized yoga day event.
On November 19, 2017, just one month after Dhillon was appointed to New Zealand consulate, he attended an HSS-organized symposium in Sandringham which featured RSS Joint General Secretary Manmohan Vaidya as its keynote speaker. During the event, Vaidya stated, “India is not just a country; rather it is a way of life based on spirituality.” Besides Vaidya, Dhillon joined Saumitra Gokhale.
On October 15, 2017, Commissioner Mahalingam spoke at an HSS-organized event for the third time that year, sharing the stage with Saumitra Gokhale.
On October 8, 2017, Consul General Nagesh Singh of India’s Atlanta consulate was the special guest at an HSS-organized event in Atlanta where garlanded pictures of Hedgewar and Golwalkar were displayed. The consul general performed obeisances to the photos. According to NayaFace.com, “The program was clubbed with Gurunanak Jayanti [celebration of Sikh Guru Nanak’s birthday].”
Also on October 8, 2017, Ambassador Sujan Chinoy of India’s Tokyo embassy was the keynote speaker at an event celebrating the birth centenary of RSS ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya. Greeting “friends of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (Japan),” he said, “It’s a great opportunity for me, once again, to be present here.” Commenting on how the event “met the high standards of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh,” he stated, “It is very important, therefore, to recall the thoughts, the ideals, the teachings of Pandit Deendayal, whose hundredth birth anniversary we mark today. Pandit Deendayal was a visionary.”
“Upadhyaya advanced the same concept of Hindu supremacy, or Hindutva, which was originated by V.D. Savarkar in 1923 and institutionalized by Hedgewar when he founded the RSS in 1925,” explains South Asian affair analyst Pieter Friedrich. “Just like Savarkar, who claimed that ‘we are Indians because we are Hindus and vice versa,’ Upadhyaya said, ‘Our nationality is none other than Hindu nationality.’ He worked to exclude non-Hindus from India’s national life, claimed that the ‘center of loyalty’ of Christians and Muslims is outside India, and insisted that it was an attack on the ‘soul of India’ to declare it a secular nation.”
Friedrich points to a particular quote by Upadhyaya where, discussing “the solution of the Muslim problem,” he stated that it “can’t be solved unless and until Muslims are politically defeated.” Friedrich says this echoes Nazi rhetoric. “Savarkar and Upadhyaya both talked about the ‘Muslim problem,’ but on an international level we’re most familiar with such language being used to discuss the ‘Jewish problem.’ Just like in Europe under the Nazis, the RSS’s solution to the so-called ‘problem’ manifests in pogroms against minorities.”
At least two other Indian diplomats attended HSS-organized celebrations of Upadhyaya in 2017.
On September 25, 2017, Consul Agrawal was the guest of honor at an Upadhyaya event in Hong Kong which was jointly organized by the HSS, VHP, and OFBJP. He shared the stage with keynote speaker Swami Vigyananand, a Joint General Secretary of the VHP who has stirred controversy for supporting the distribution of trishuls (small tridents) despite reports that the weapons have been used in anti-minority pogroms in India.
Also in September 2017, High Commissioner Mahalingam attended a Upadhyaya event in Guyana.
On September 25, 2017, Consul General Nagesh Singh hosted a celebration of Upadhyaya at the Atlanta consulate. While it was not an HSS-organized event, the consul general did attend at least two Hindu nationalist events within the next two weeks.
On October 7, as reported by Khabar magazine, “Consul General Nagesh Singh and Consul D. V. Singh attended” a Cumming, Georgia event jointly organized by the VHP and HSS. Nagesh spoke alongside VHP Atlanta Chapter President Kusum Khurana. The next day, October 8, as previously mentioned, the consul general again attended an HSS-organized event.
On June 25, 2017, High Commissioner Mahalingam spoke at an HSS-organized yoga day event, stating, “I am thankful to Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh for organizing the celebration of the International Day of Yoga for the third year in succession. I would like to particularly thank Mr. Ravi Dev and his devoted colleagues including Priya Sukhdeo, General Secretary of HSS (Guyana).”
On February 23, 2017, Consul General B. Vanlalvawna of India’s Sydney consulate was the guest of honor at an event jointly organized by the VHP and HSS to commemorate Hedgewar’s founding of the RSS. He joined HSS Sanghchalak Nihal Agar, Saumitra Gokhale, and Manmohan Vaidya of the RSS. Photos of Hedgewar were displayed throughout the venue.
On January 29, 2017, Consul General Nagesh Singh and Deputy Consul Surendra Adhana of India’s Houston consulate appeared at an HSS-organized yoga day in Sugarland, Texas. “I congratulate the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh,” said Nagesh.
On October 9, 2016, Ambassador Sujan Chinoy spoke at an HSS-organized Upadhyaya event in Tokyo. “Ever since the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh commenced its activities in 2014, it has undertaken many activities for which I congratulate you,” he said. “You have not only tried your best to promote Indian culture, yoga. You also partnered with the Indian Embassy in celebrating the 2nd International Day of Yoga…. We must do what the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is already doing.”
On May 29, 2016, Consul General Anupam Ray of India’s Houston consulate spoke at an HSS-organized Hindu Sanghathan Divas (Hindu Unity Day) where he was joined by HSS Sanghchalak Vinod Ambastha. “I am extremely impressed by the work that the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is doing in Houston,” said Anupam. “For me, my being Indian is inextricably linked with my being Hindu.”
On August 30, 2015, Vice Consul Shambhu Amitabh from India’s New York consulate attended an HSS-organized Hindu Sanghathan Divas. He was joined by keynote speakers Subramanian Swamy — a senior BJP leader who was not then in office — and Rajiv Malhotra. According to India West, Malhotra stated, “The notion of Dalit-Christian has been developed to convince the Dalits that they are non-Hindus and that Hinduism is a system of exploitation for which Christianity is the solution. It is, therefore, necessary that evangelist-left nexus and media mediocrity be fought.” Also joining the event were HSS Coordinator Jagdish Sewhani, Rajesh Shukla of OFBJP, and the late Narain Kataria, a former executive of the VHP and Organizing Secretary for HSS’s New York chapter.
On June 21, 2015, Consul General Nagesh Singh spoke at an HSS-organized yoga day where he was joined by HSS Sanghchalak Ved Nanda and Swami Vigyananand, the controversial VHP executive. The same day, Consul General Venkatesan Ashok of India’s San Francisco consulate jointly organized a yoga day with HSS.
Also on June 21, 2015, High Commissioner Ravi Bangar of India’s Cyprus embassy jointly organized a yoga day with HSS. According to reports from the Cyprus embassy, “The Cyprus branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) participants also participated in the event…. The HSS held the function at Falcon School premises at 820 am. The High Commissioner, at the invitation of the HSS, inaugurated by lighting the traditional Indian lamp and also addressed the participants.”
On September 14, 2013, Consul General N. Parthasarathi of India’s San Francisco consulate spoke at an HSS-organized “Dharma and Yoga Fest” alongside Saumitra Gokhale and Ved Nanda.
On September 7, 2013, Consul General Harish Parvathaneni of India’s Houston consulate spoke alongside Gokhale as well as several other key leaders of HSS’s local and national branches, including HSS Vice President Ramesh Bhutada, HSS Public Relations Chief Amit Misra, and HSS Houston Chapter President Subash Gupta.
While the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh is not officially linked to the RSS, many of its branches note that they are “ideologically inspired” by it. According to the India Herald, HSS founder Jagdish Sharda was a “dedicated Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh worker” who spent a “lifelong journey with the RSS or Sangh.” His formation of the HSS in Kenya in 1947 “marked the beginning of RSS abroad.”
A survey of recent Vijaya Dashami celebrations hosted by HSS chapters throughout the United States also reveals the intimate links between the HSS and the RSS. Garlanded pictures of Hedgewar and Golwalkar were prominently displayed at over a dozen such events around the country, as seen in posts shared by HSS-USA’s official Facebook page. Locations included Houston, Los Angeles, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Boston, San Jose, and suburbs of Chicago and Washington, D.C.
As OFMI noted in its press statement about Dinesh Bhatia’s appearance at the Toronto HSS event, Hedgewar said his intention was “to put in reality the words ‘Hindustan of Hindus.’” He stated, “Hindustan is a country of Hindus. Like other nations of other people (eg. Germany of Germans), this is a nation of Hindu people.” Golwalkar, who was the RSS’s longest-serving leader, stated, “We repeat: in Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation.” Both described Christianity and Islam as “foreign” religions.
“The Indian government is dominated by RSS members,” comments Friedrich. “Prime Minister Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu are all RSS members, as are at least a third of the Central Government’s Union Cabinet. When Indian diplomats appear at HSS, VHP, and OFBJP events, they send the message that they are prejudiced representatives of a supremacist ideology rather than emissaries representing the Indian people as a whole.”
Indian consulates in the U.S. have repeatedly courted controversy as they have openly opposed efforts by Sikh-American communities to have the 1984 Sikh Genocide recognized by their local governments.
In 2015, the California State Assembly passed a resolution recognizing Indian government involvement in what it called “the November 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms and massacre.” Consul General Venkatesan Ashok responded, “I am very surprised by the fact that they have chosen to make a comment on this so long after the incident.” In 2016, when the City of Fresno sought to pass a resolution declaring the 1984 violence as a “genocide,” the consul general lobbied the city council in opposition, accused “extremists” of supporting it, and asked, “Why is it now necessary again to rake it up and relive the whole thing?”
Similar opposition was offered in November 2018 when the State of Connecticut proclaimed November 30 of every year as “Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day.” In a November 5 letter to Connecticut State Senator Cathy Osten, Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty of India’s San Francisco consulate wrote:
“There was no persecution of Sikhs in India…. There has been no Sikh Genocide in India…. If one is looking for pre-cursor of the anti-Sikhs violence of November 1984, it was violence and terrorism in India perpetrated by Sikh separatists/terrorists…. The fringe/radical elements of the Sikh community in Connecticut appear to be oblivious of what has happened in the past…. These fringe elements have taken benefit of your trust and made you support this Bill with the help of not only distorted facts but also the divisive narrative.”
Senator Osten, in remarks at the November 10 release of the proclamation, responded, “As in any case where genocide has happened, the perpetrators of that genocide say ‘it wasn’t me.’ And they often blame the victims, saying that ‘it was what they did that brought this about.’ I would liken this to the Holocaust when people said that ‘the Holocaust did not happen’ and people today would still say ‘the Holocaust did not happen,’ ‘those people did not really die,’ ‘the death camps were not real.’ But they were real and this was real. And I would expect that the Government of India would recognize that.”
Balbir Singh Dhillon, president of West Sacramento Sikh Gurdwara, asks, “Why is the BJP government so desperate to suppress remembrance of our suffering in 1984? It seems to be evidence of the involvement of Hindutva elements in the genocide committed against our community. It is also a sign that the thousands of Sikhs who found refuge in free countries like the USA need to work more closely with the governments of our countries to resist foreign interference by India. One way we can do that is by exposing the hypocrisy of India’s diplomats when they support Hindutva violence by joining RSS events but attack Sikh-Americans for our work to remember the 1984 Sikh Genocide.”