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Tackling Growing Influence Of Hindutva In The United States – OpEd

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The ideology of Hindutva poses an existential threat to South Asian and global stability. No more is this evident than in India where a vicious, reductionist and socially exclusionary agenda is being pursued by a Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It has eroded the social fabric of a country which often prided itself on its secular credentials. The end of the Gandhi Nehruvian dynasty ushered in a hardline, capitalist, Hindu first, vindictive and Nazi ideology which gains support from the parent RSS which was solely responsible for assassinating Mahatma Gandhi. As the sun sets on 2022, the question is whether this ideology will remain a potent force in global affairs or not. 

The answer to this question partly lies with Hindutva’s support base which is transnational and not limited to India alone. As the world’s second largest economy which wields significant political, economic and military influence across the world, must of that support base stems from the United States. The pro-Indian orientation of both Republican and Democrat governments throughout the history of American foreign policy has translated into a conducive environment for Saffron groups to operate with impunity. 

According to the May 2022 South Asia Citizen Web Report, for nearly two decades, seven US- based groups affiliated with the Sangh parivar or a group of Hindu nationalist organizations had spent over $158 million on various projects including sending funding to India. The comprehensive report which is 93 pages long documents the financial spending of Hindutva civil society groups, their expenditures which is not limited to sending money to their affiliates in India alone, but also to influence legislations on textbooks, curricula, academic output related to religion and history as well as foreign policy priorities of the National Democratic Alliance government in New Delhi. 

It builds a linkage between the rise of white nationalists and Russian backed disinformation networks as further revealing the ecosystems whereby certain populations view world through a sense of discrimination and disenfranchisement. The report names and reveals the activities of 24 US Hindu Nationalist organizations which assets totaling $100 million. In one of its key findings, it suggests that between 2001-2019, seven Sangh related charities spent at least $158.9 million on their programming and sending the bulk of the amount to groups in India. These calculations are based on available tax returns, of seven groups identified as the All India Movement (AIM) for Seva, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of America, India Development and Relief Fund, Param Shakti Peeth, PYP Yog Foundation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and Sewa International.

The methodology adopted by this report was to go through tax records, news reports, public statements and government filings. By mapping portions of the Hindu nationalist ecosystem in the United States, the report also looks at the shareholding patterns of the NGOs which enable them to establish links to broader networks. For example, the trustees of ‘Dharma Civilization Foundation’ had been office bearers of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) which is the American equivalent of the RSS. 

To underline the rising influence of Hindutva in US the report also analyzes the political campaign financing of these groups. The Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC) spent more than $172000 in numerous American elections from 2012 to 2020 based on government filings alone. As per a SACW report, US Congress member Raja Krishnamoorthy received more than $117000 from HAPAC and other Sangh affiliated individuals between 2015 to 2020. Krishnamoorthy has had an apparent pattern of contributing to the mainstreaming and legitimization of Hindu nationalist interests in the American public which includes his 2017 letter that was written to the California state education board to include ‘Hindutva’ content in the curriculum. Other staggering revelations include how former congresswoman and presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard received $110000 between 2014 and 2019 and senior member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Brad Sherman received $27000. 

With the Modi led BJP deeply entrenched in the Indian domestic polity, it is fair to conclude that much of these harrowing trends are likely to continue well into 2023 and beyond. The strength of Hindutva organizations which have gained notoriety and widespread coverage in international media for fomenting discord amongst minorities stems from their influence in countries such as the United States. Attacks on Muslims in the form of cow vigilante violence, citing conspiracy theories such as love Jihad and disparaging Islamic beliefs are part and parcel of the Hindutva playbook. Blasphemous comments made by now suspended national spokesperson of the BJP, Nupur Sharma and the plausible deniability of her actions from her party hints at the Islamophobic orientation of the current Indian government, despite the fact that her comments were condemned by Washington D.C.  

With such expansionist designs, it is unfathomable that South Asian peace could ever be attained. The Biden administration like his predecessor, Donald Trump has so far turned a blind eye to how Hindu lobby groups convenient fund terrorist camps within India which look to attack Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Dalits with zero accountability. When Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto stated at a news conference in the United Nations that Modi was the butcher of Gujarat who has become the Prime Minister of India without accountability, his remarks were clearly based on the support system which allows hatred to fester and enables demagogues such as Modi to come to power. 

It is clear that with rising Hindutva influence in the United States squarely intact, saffronization will continue unabated. This does not bode well for South Asian or world peace. 

Note: This article appeared in Eurasia, dated 17 January 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.


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