SARATOGA, CA, USA—Rishi Kumar, a Saratoga City Councillor running for U.S. Congress, was questioned at a May 1 city council meeting by activists alleging foreign interference in his campaign after he led an Overseas Friends of the BJP campaign event.
Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian affairs, told the council, “India’s ruling party, the BJP, has an international wing called the Overseas Friends of the BJP — or OFBJP.” He explained, “From America, the OFBJP works to keep the BJP in power in India. At a March 31 OFBJP event in Milpitas, over 400 people gathered to pledge to work for the re-election of the BJP in India. Speakers included national leaders of the international wing of the fascist RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] paramilitary — as well as Saratoga City Councillor Rishi Kumar.”
Six people gathered on Wednesday evening in the nearly empty city council chambers to protest Kumar’s involvement with the BJP. The two-term councillor from the Silicon Valley city is challenging incumbent Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-18) for a district covering much of the San Francisco South Bay region. On his campaign website, he says that “Silicon Valley needs progressive leadership” and promises to “be an involved, committed, dedicated, and vigilant advocate of every resident of Silicon Valley.”
Speaking during the public remarks section of the council meeting, Bhajan Singh of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), told Saratoga Mayor Manny Cappello, “We want you to instruct your staff to investigate Rishi Kumar’s alliances.” Singh asked, “Is he a plant who will take his orders from his fascist bosses in India? Why is he siding with those who operate like a sleeper cell to work for one of the deadliest nationalist movements in the world? Why does he hobnob with the RSS and those people who believe in and are devoted to the principles of Hitler?”
“The BJP was founded in 1980 by the RSS,” explained Friedrich. “The RSS is a fascist paramilitary which was founded in 1925 — the same year as the Nazi SS. It was modeled after the European fascist movements. Its leaders compared Indian Muslims to German Jews and praised Nazi racial policies. They called non-Hindus in India ‘traitors.’ They declared that their goal was to establish India as a Hindu Nation.”
“Mr. Mayor and respected council-members, when I heard about Mr. Rishi Kumar, who is affiliated with and very actively participating in the OFBJP — that is the foreign arm of the BJP — I felt that it’s my democratic responsibility to share some information about the organizations that BJP and its family belongs to,” said activist Karthikeyan Shanmugam, “These are collectively known as Sangh Parivar…. The Sangh was not able to make electoral inroads by mere propaganda and sporadic violence, so they started systematic violence.”
Shanmugam listed a number of major incidents in which the Sangh was involved, especially the 1992 Babri Masjid destruction and the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an RSS member, has long been accused of sanctioning the 2002 violence.
Kumar is a strong supporter of the controversial prime minister. In a September 28, 2015 article, he claimed that Silicon Valley was “basking in Modi fever” after Modi spoke at San Jose’s SAP Center. Leading up to the event, he says, “The man, the myth, the legend was being eagerly awaited.” Noting that he was a member of the organizing team, he adds, “I was delighted to be part of the Prime Minister of India Modi’s Silicon Valley experience this past weekend.”
The organizing team also included Khanderao Kand, National Public Relations Coordinator of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS — the international wing of the RSS), and Chandru Bhambra, president of HSS’s Bay Area Chapter, coordinator of the OFBJP’s Northern California chapter, and a former OFBJP national president. Both Kand and Bhambra joined Kumar at the March 31 OFBJP event. Called a “NaMo Sangam” — or “gathering for Narendra Modi” — India Post reports the attendees pledged to “support and campaign” for Modi’s re-election.
At the Saratoga council meeting, Friedrich noted that Kumar has a long history of working for the BJP. He asked, “Do we really want a candidate for U.S. Congress who runs as a liberal progressive in America while campaigning for re-election of fascists in India? Does America really want or need another candidate for political office who will face allegations of foreign interference in his election? Does our secular and pluralistic society really need a U.S. Congressman who spends his free time campaigning for a religious nationalist political party in India? Is this the best we can do?”
“The RSS is very actively working in America to undermine liberty and justice for all,” concluded Shanmugam. “We should not encourage people like Rishi Kumar or anybody to take public office when it will challenge the very ideal of democracy itself.”
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a presidential candidate, recently provoked similar outrage for her own involvement with the BJP and RSS. At an April 24 presidential forum in Houston, TX, a group of Indian Americans and African Americans protested Gabbard as the “mascot of India’s KKK” (referring to the RSS). They specifically criticized her for attending OFBJP events, including one in Atlanta, GA where the head of the BJP’s Foreign Affairs Cell told her, “Your victory later this year is a foregone conclusion.”