CHICAGO, USA—Anger is stirring after US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi keynoted a Chicago event celebrating the founding of Indian paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
“Congressman Krishnamoorthi has planted his flag firmly in the camp of India’s fascist movement,” states Arvin Valmuci, a spokesperson for Organization for Minorities of India. “During his short time in office, he has consistently demonstrated an unrelenting commitment to the groups most directly responsible for massacring minorities in India. Krishnamoorthi’s associations indicate he rejects American doctrines of liberty and equality in favor of the RSS’s ideology of hate and supremacy.”
The mid-October event in Chicago was hosted by the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the international wing of the RSS. Krishnamoorthi joined Shridhar Damle, HSS-Chicago sanghchalak (chief), on stage alongside a saffron flag, the symbol of the RSS. Behind him stood garlanded photos of K.B. Hedgewar, founder of the RSS, and M.S. Golwalkar, the RSS’s longest serving sarsanghchalak (supreme chief).
“It sends a chilling message to Indian minorities for an American congressman to stand on stage with a picture of Golwalkar, who glorified Nazi Germany’s racial policy of purging the Jews, at an event celebrating the founding of the RSS, a violent paramilitary involved in pogroms against minorities in India,” Pieter Friedrich told OFMI.
An analyst of South Asian affairs, Friedrich recently authored a lengthy expose of US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s ties to the RSS. The article drew the attention of actor John Cusack. Sharing it on Twitter, Cusack wrote, “RSS are fascist & direct line goes back to Italian/German fascists.” Referring to Gabbard, who is running for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, he added, “If you support Modi you really can’t claim to be a ‘progressive.’”
“Krishnamoorthi’s association with the RSS is arguably stronger than Gabbard’s,” says Friedrich. “Even Gabbard caved to external pressure to drop out of last year’s World Hindu Congress in Chicago, but Krishnamoorthi rejected all overtures and unapologetically joined the WHC to take the stage with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.”
“Events like this are trying to legitimize the genocides of minorities committed by the RSS,” OFMI director Pawan Singh told Krishnamoorthi’s Washington, D.C. office staff on September 5, 2018 in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the congressman to drop out of the WHC. “Our concern is that these terrorist groups should not be given a platform on American soil.”
The following day, activist Jada Bernard met with Krishnamoorthi’s staff at his Schaumburg, IL office to explain that the WHC was organized by the Viswha Hindu Parishad, the religious wing of the RSS. Describing how these groups fall under the umbrella term “Sangh Parivar,” he explained, “Sangh Parivar groups represent Hindutva, which is Hindu supremacy. That ideology is responsible for violence in the past, and because it’s responsible for violence in the past, any association with this group in the present could damage elections in the future.”
Hindutva, defined by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as an ideology that treats non-Hindus as foreign to India, is the guiding philosophy of the RSS.
The ideology is at the center of a controversy raging around Hindu-American Congressman Ro Khanna. In late August, Khanna declared, “It’s the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist[s] & Christians.” Subsequently, in early October, HSS protested Khanna outside one of his congressional town halls near San Jose, CA. Yet groups like Indian American Muslim Council and Hindus for Human Rights have met with Khanna to express solidarity with his stance. Markandey Katju, a former Indian Supreme Court Judge, recently wrote, “Many Hindus and Hindu organizations in America like the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) have criticized Ro for his brave stand, but I regard it as an act of statesmanship.”
“Congressman Khanna’s principled stand in support of humanity took a lot of courage because it earned him a lot of enemies,” says OFMI associate director Brian Isai. “RSS activists all around America are pledging to drive Khanna out of office just because of his few, bold words against Hindutva. But while Khanna is standing strong against hate, it’s tragic to see Krishnamoorthi openly in cahoots with the groups spreading that hate.”
On September 8, the congressman keynoted a Houston, TX fundraising banquet for Sewa International.
SI is the international wing of Sewa Bharati, a subsidiary of RSS. The SI-UK branch found itself in hot water in 2004 when a report revealed that it was giving funds to RSS-affiliated groups in India that foment communal violence. The report inspired Lord Adam Patel, previously a patron of SI-UK, to resign, stating: “I very much regret ever having been part of this racist organization…. Sewa International is a front for militant Hindu organizations…. I am sure a lot of the donors don’t realize the money is being sent to help terror groups like the RSS.”
Krishnamoorthi was joined on stage by Jugal Malani and Ramesh Bhutada, leaders in RSS-affiliated groups who organized Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s September 22 “Howdy, Modi” rally in Houston. Bhutada, a co-founder of SI-USA, is also the Vice-President of HSS-USA. Malani, his brother-in-law and business associate, is an advisor to the Houston chapter of the US branch of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation. Ekal is an educational project founded by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the religious wing of the RSS.
Two weeks later, Krishnamoorthi was the only one of four US congressional representatives of Indian origin to join Modi at “Howdy, Modi,” which was protested by an estimated 15,000 people.
In August of this year, the HSS faced accusations of infiltrating US police and fire departments to stage photo-ops. OFMI’s Valmuci described it as “an attempt by the HSS to legitimize a fascist paramilitary.” Khalid Azam, a founding member of Indian American Muslim Council, wrote to Illinois’s Naperville Police Department: “This is a fascist organization (fascist is not being used as a slur here) — HSS and its parent org, RSS, was founded by Moonje and others who visited Mussolini and Hitler and sought advice on how a similar organization and movement rooted in Fascism can be created in India. These founders have statements on the record defending fascism and Hitler’s treatment of Jews.”
In November 2018, OFMI released a report documenting how 15 Indian diplomats in nine countries had spoken at 24 different Sangh Parivar events since 2013, most in just the previous two years. Valmuci explained, “We are certain that Indian diplomats are collaborating with the RSS on a far larger scale than even what we’ve uncovered so far.”
The report stirred debate in India. Speaking with ThePrint.in, former Indian foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon said such actions indicate the “civil services are being politicized,” adding that diplomats “are supposed to represent India, not any individual party or sect or group.” Deb Mukharji, a former Indian diplomat to Nepal and Bangladesh, called it “absolutely shocking” and “against the very grain of the civil service conduct rules” for Indian diplomats to participate in RSS-affiliated events.
“Even India’s diplomats cause outrage for collaborating with RSS, so it is even more shocking to us that a congressman like Krishnamoorthi would endorse the Hindu Taliban operating on American soil,” says Balbir Singh Dhillon, president of West Sacramento Sikh Gurdwara. He notes that Krishnamoorthi attended the HSS event within days of the jathedar (chief priest) of the Akal Takht (top Sikh body) calling for the RSS to be banned. “RSS is totally anti-Sikh, just like it is against all the minorities in India. It is the biggest terrorist organization in India. We left India to escape the violence caused by these kinds of hate groups. HSS is like a sleeper cell for RSS. We want our representatives in US Congress to protect us and stand up for American values, not schmooze around with these fascists from India.”