LOS ANGELES, CA, USA—”Her congressional career exists because of financing from and free promotion from Hindu nationalist organizations in the U.S. which are directly linked to Hindu nationalist organizations in India which currently control India’s government and which, there, are directly implicated in repeated pogroms and other atrocities against minorities,” alleged South Asian affairs analyst Pieter Friedrich about U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard in an interview with political talk show host Graham Elwood.
The hour-long interview, touching on the nature of Hindu nationalism and Gabbard’s relationship with Indian religious nationalist groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their American counterparts, comes just two weeks after Gabbard announced her 2020 campaign for the U.S. presidency.
“She shouldn’t be president, but she shouldn’t even be in Congress,” said Friedrich. “She should be, if not investigated on a criminal level, at least deeply investigated on a journalistic level…. If we’re going to talk about Russia hacking our election and we’re going to talk about foreign political interference in the American political scene, how about we look at Tulsi Gabbard. While we’re all distracted with the Russian political interference, maybe we should turn our focus and pay a little bit of attention to the Indian political interference.”
Gabbard’s links to Hindutva organizations have nagged her for years, but they became a major issue last year during her campaign for reelection to a fourth term in the U.S. Congress.
In June 2018, U.S.-based human rights outfit Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) began protesting Gabbard’s announcement that she would chair the World Hindu Congress (WHC). Held in Chicago in September 2018, the event was organized by the VHP-America and featured as its keynote speaker RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. “They are linked to every major pogrom in India in the past 30 years — all of which occurred during Bhagat’s active years in the organization,” explained OFMI spokesperson Arvin Valmuci at the time. “There is no place in the USA for a terrorist group like the RSS.” Subsequently, the group issued an open letter to Gabbard suggesting that she was “standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the fascist element of Hindu nationalists of India.”
In August, OFMI produced a video questioning: “Why does she turn a blind eye to the atrocities of India’s fascists? Is Tulsi bought and paid for by Hindu supremacists?” Thereafter, Friedrich conducted an interview with Hawaiian radio show host Irminsul in which he stated, “Gabbard is spending her time working as hard as possible to bring the Hindu nationalist agenda to American soil. Her stance is not only empowering extremists in India to continue engaging in violence against ethnic minorities there, but she’s also using her political platform to deliberately conceal the reality of the situation for Indian minorities.” Later, a coalition of 11 South Asian diaspora groups signed an open letter calling on Gabbard to publicly sever ties with Hindu nationalist organizations and detailing her “association with extreme right wing hate groups.”
Over the following weeks, the WHC was mired in increasing controversy. One scheduled speaker named Sankrant Sanu sparked outrage after calling critics of the RSS “cockroaches” and “insects.” The Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA), which describes itself as “an umbrella organization of progressive groups across the United States,” issued a statement calling for a boycott of the WHC. Additionally, WHC founder Swami Vigyananand — who is a VHP joint general secretary — was revealed as a supporter of the VHP’s “trishul distribution” program who claims that carrying the short-handled trident trains the mind to kill and also calls for establishment of India as “a Hindu State.”
Notably, Gabbard had in 2016 published a press statement to her votetulsi.com campaign website in which she reported speaking at a Los Angeles event organized by the controversial VHP executive and noting that, at the event, “Swami Vigyananand and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard met for the second time.”
Finally, after months of protest, Gabbard issued a September 4 statement — on the eve of the WHC — in which she said, “Due to ethical concerns and problems that surround my participating in any partisan Indian political event in America, effective immediately, I respectfully withdraw myself from serving as Honorary Chair of the World Hindu Congress.”
“Representative Gabbard’s deep ties to agents of a violent religious nationalist political party and the paramilitary groups which control it suggests that India’s supremacists have infiltrated America and are using her for their own ends,” remarks Valmuci. “She only backed out of WHC because of political pressure from people and groups around the country, but she continues to associate with and receive funds from the same Hindutva outfits that hosted the WHC. We hope that her presidential campaign provides a platform for exposing this infiltration and also the vast number of past and ongoing Hindutva crimes committed with impunity against India’s Buddhists, Christians, Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs, and non-fundamentalist Hindus.”
Friedrich, commenting on his interview with Elwood, says, “This is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more beneath the surface. The RSS and its Hindutva affiliates are the KKK of India. Gabbard has spent the past six years serving as America’s handmaiden of Hindutva. She not only empowers India’s religious extremists, but she’s a danger to the entire free world.”
A partial transcript of Friedrich’s interview follows —
When this guy was a representative at her wedding in April 2015, you have to really trace back and look at the four years previous to that as far as the ongoing long-term relationship between her and the Hindu nationalist organizations that this particular individual, Ram Madhav, represents. When he was there, he was there as a representative of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, but there were four years of back history that led up to him being there. That really begins in her first primary election, when she was just running for Congress….
She announced for Congress in May 2011. By the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, she was developing strong, strong ties — before she’d won the primary — to Hindutva organizations based in the U.S. which are the U.S. chapters of organizations back in India. This was before Modi came to power and before the BJP, his political party, came to power. It was while they were mobilizing, trying to get him into power in 2014. These organizations found Gabbard, and they latched on to her, and they identified Gabbard as somebody that could be used as a figurehead to help advance their agenda of whitewashing Narendra Modi and his record and whitewashing the BJP and its supremacist agenda of Hindutva. And they did that….
She was not expected to win at all. In January and February, she was still 40 or 50 points behind the other guy. She was a first-term — first year in her first term — city councillor from Honolulu running against a former mayor of Honolulu…. By the end of 2011, she’d only raised about half of what this guy had raised. She was flagging in the polls. She was flagging in fundraising. And then these key executive members of these U.S. Hindutva organizations who are linked to India found her, and latched onto her, and started pumping money into her….
By August 2012, when she won her first primary, about $40,000. By November 2012, when she’d won the general election, she’d received about $80,000 to $90,000 from individuals who are directly identifiable as executives and active members of these Hindutva organizations.
Two of the first key individuals were these guys from Texas…. One of them is Vijay Pallod. He first gave to her in October 2011. The other one is his brother-in-law, Ramesh Bhutada. Vijay Pallod is a former Governing Council Member of the VHP-America, which is the U.S. branch of VHP-India. Ramesh Bhutada is the National Vice-President of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, HSS-USA, which is the U.S. branch of the RSS….
Especially significantly, towards the end, after they’d given her all these tens of thousands of dollars, before she’d actually won election, Vijay Pallod and Ramesh Bhutada hosted a fundraiser for her in Texas. She went to Houston, Texas to Vijay Pallod’s home on October 28. They had a fundraiser for her. A number of these individuals, executives of these Hindutva organizations, were there. Three days later, three days after these Hindutva people are throwing this fundraiser for her, and after she’d raised about $20,000 in Texas in the space of a couple of weeks, she came out with her India policy in which she basically declared that she was going to be the most pro-India congresswoman that ever existed and that she was going to unequivocally advocate for India to be supported in its bid for a UN Security Council seat….
Her congressional career exists because of financing from and free promotion from Hindu nationalist organizations in the U.S. which are directly linked to Hindu nationalist organizations in India which currently control India’s government and which, there, are directly implicated in repeated pogroms and other atrocities against minorities….
One week after she got elected, she went to Florida, had a fundraiser in Florida with key members of these organizations — specifically, in Florida, with key members, including the president-elect, of an organization called the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), which is an organization which exists in the U.S. for the sole purpose of promoting the Indian political party, the BJP, which is the current ruling party, and which exists and operates for the sole purpose of encouraging Indian-Americans to support this foreign political party.…
In her first two years in office, which were key years, she received donations from the President, the Vice-President, the former President, and the former Vice-President of this OFBJP organization as well as from about six or so National Council members of the OFBJP. She received donations from the President, the Vice-President, the National Public Relations Chief, and the National Public Relations Coordinator of the HSS — the international wing of the RSS — as well as at least four HSS chapter presidents in four different states….
She was at one VHP-America event. VHP is the religious subsidiary of the RSS. She was at three HSS events, one of them in Australia. She attended two OFBJP events. When she was in India, she spoke at two separate forums — one conference, one forum — which were sponsored by the RSS or its affiliates. This is all in the first two years. This is not to mention her meeting with the president of the BJP before the BJP comes into power. This is not to mention her meeting with the national spokesperson of the RSS….
I’ve personally identified at least 90 different individuals within her first two election cycles — 2011 to 2012 and 2013 to 2014 — who are identifiable as members and especially executives of these different organizations in the U.S. who have donated money to her. And that’s just leading up to 2014.…
Ram Madhav, at the time when he was at her wedding, he was the national spokesperson for the BJP, the political party. A couple years prior to that, he was national spokesperson for the RSS, the paramilitary organization. While he was still national spokesperson for the RSS, before Modi came into power and before the BJP came into power in 2014, in Tulsi Gabbard’s first year in office — in Tulsi Gabbard’s first six months in office — she was in D.C. in July 2013. And she sits down, she has a meeting with this guy who was later at her wedding.
This was July 2013, before her April 2015 wedding. She sits down, she has a meeting with this Ram Mahdav, while he is not an elected official, not even a political party leader. He’s spokesperson of the RSS. Also at this meeting is the president of the BJP which, again, he is not an elected official, not a politician — a political party leader of the opposition party which is trying to get into power and which is not in power at that time. And Tulsi Gabbard — six months in office — she’s sitting here having meetings with them. Why is she having meetings with them in July 2013?
If you follow the money trail, in June and July 2013, she had three or maybe four fundraisers in four different states — in Illinois, California, Texas, and maybe also Florida — in that two month period in which she was given about $90,000… by key people in these organizations, especially in this OFBJP organization. Sandwiched in the middle of that, she’s in D.C. meeting with the president of the BJP and with the national spokesperson of the RSS.…
Gabbard joined the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. That commission was holding a hearing on religious freedom in India in April 2014. She specifically came out at that hearing and read out a statement saying, “I’m against this hearing because the timing is horrible, the elections are just about to occur in India, and I feel like this is an attempt to interfere in the elections in India.”
She has no qualms about allowing these operatives of the BJP — these operatives of a foreign political party — coming and lining her campaign coffers with tens and tens and ten and tens of thousands of dollars. Then, as they’re doing it, meeting with these people, attending their events, and meeting with representatives from an Indian political party and with paramilitary organization representatives, not even elected officials. She has no problem doing that in her first year in office, second year in office, or before she’s even elected, but then when the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in April 2014 attempts to talk about human rights in India, she goes out of her way to denounce it as attempted interference in India’s political elections.
But to talk about interference. That’s April 2014. Then in May 2014, BJP does win, they come into power, Narendra Modi is elected as Prime Minister of India. On May 16, he was announced as Prime Minister of India. The exact same day, Tulsi Gabbard issues a press statement saying, “I just got off the phone with Narendra Modi to congratulate him and his BJP for winning.” It is, among other things, very strange that a freshman congresswoman from Hawaii, who is just barely into the second year of her first term in office — that the same day as the new Prime Minister of India is announced, that he takes her call. Why is he taking her call? How does he even have time for that?
Fast forward to June. She’s in Los Angeles. She attends an OFBJP banquet where she is the chief guest. At this banquet, after a year or more of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from Hindutva organizations and a lot of money from BJP-affiliated organizations — at this banquet in Los Angeles, she puts on a BJP sash with the BJP colors and poses for a photograph. This is the first one she goes to.
The second one she goes to is two months later in Georgia in August. At that banquet, she’s the chief guest, but she’s also there with a guy named Vijay Jolly. He’s an Indian guy, from India, an Indian citizen. At the time, he was head of the OFBJP. And so, I want to talk about this issue of political interference.
At this banquet in August, she speaks, and she congratulates the audience for their efforts to get Modi and the BJP elected. She’s speaking to American citizens — Indian-Americans, but American citizens. She congratulates them for all the “hard work that they did by traveling to India” to campaign for the BJP, which many of them did. About a 1000 Indian-American U.S. citizens traveled to India to campaign.
Then, after she speaks, this guy Vijay Jolly, the head of the OFBJP, gets on stage and he says, “I am a soldier of the Bharatiya Janata Party.” … Then he tells her — this is in August and her reelection for a second term is coming up in November — he tells her: “We are sure, with the support of the people of Indian origin, the Non-Resident Indians and, of course, the U.S. citizens, your victory later this year is a foregone conclusion.” Keep in mind, this is a political operative from a foreign political party, who is not a U.S. citizen, he’s on U.S. soil at a foreign political party event, turning to a U.S. congresswoman and telling her, “Yeah, your reelection later this year is absolutely a foregone conclusion.” …
When she talks about things like war and peace and she talks against regime change, I like to hear that, but I cannot accept her as anything but a hypocrite if she’s talking about that on the one hand while she’s whitewashing and lining her campaign coffers with money from these Hindu nationalists who are implicated in staging pogroms — many people call them genocides — of minorities, of the most vulnerable people, in India. And the minorities in India today are truly suffering.
She shouldn’t be president, but she shouldn’t even be in Congress. In fact, I think that she should be, if not investigated on a criminal level, at least deeply investigated on a journalistic level…. If we’re going to talk about Russia hacking our election and we’re going to talk about foreign political interference in the American political scene, how about we look at Tulsi Gabbard. While we’re all distracted with the Russian political interference, maybe we should turn our focus and pay a little bit of attention to the Indian political interference….
It is absolutely provable that her congressional career exists because of support from these people, and that it’s been a quid pro quo, pay to play relationship, back and forth, for years.