A coalition of 11 South Asian diaspora groups criticizes Gabbard for accepting an invitation to chair the upcoming World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago, Illinois because it is being organized by Vishwa Hindu Parisha of America (VHPA).
CHICAGO, IL — A coalition of 11 South Asian diaspora groups is calling on U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to publicly sever ties with Hindu nationalist organizations.
An open letter issued by the coalition criticizes Gabbard for accepting an invitation to chair the upcoming World Hindu Congress (WHC) in Chicago, Illinois because it is being organized by Vishwa Hindu Parisha of America (VHPA). According to the letter, “VHP-A is the American arm of the nefarious Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an organization whose role in various incidents of communal violence in India is very well documented. VHP is also officially classified as a ‘militant religious organization’ by the U.S. administration.”
In November 2017, Gabbard released an official video stating, “I am so honored to be joining you as the chair of the upcoming 2018 World Hindu Congress.” International media outlets widely reported her involvement alongside news that Mohan Bhagwat, Supreme Leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), will keynote the WHC. The RSS is the parent organization of a family of Hindu nationalist groups known as the “Sangh Parivar,” which includes the VHP as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“The RSS is India’s version of the KKK,” remarks Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian affairs. “They press an agenda of Hindu supremacy which is practically indistinguishable from white nationalism. Unfortunately, the RSS has gained far more ground in India than the KKK has in the United States. Sangh Parivar groups preach that India is, and always has been, a Hindu nation for Hindu people and that non-Hindus don’t belong in the country unless they glorify Hinduism. Bhagwat’s comments over the past several years reveal that he advances this exact ideology. Appearing alongside Bhagwat is comparable to taking the stage with David Duke.”
In 2014, Bhagwat declared, “The cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva and the present inhabitants of the country are descendants of this great culture.” In 2015, he said, “Hindustan is a Hindu Rashtra [nation], which is a fact.” In 2016, he claimed, “Our country is a Hindu Rashtra and our ancestors are Hindus.”
The coalition letter further details “Gabbard’s association with extreme right wing hate groups.” The coalition states, “We believe that an elected representative of the U.S. congress like Tulsi Gabbard getting involved with an event organized and attended by such extremist individuals will lend legitimacy to these despicable organizations.” They demand: “Tulsi Gabbard should issue a public statement clarifying that she will not be attending the WHC.” Groups endorsing the letter include:
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, Ambedkar King Study Circle, Bhim Rao Ambedkar Sikh Foundation, Chicago Desi Youth Rising, Chicago South Asians for Justice, India Civil Watch, Indian-American Muslim Council, Organization For Minorities of India, Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle, Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus, Sikh Information Centre.
Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) has repeatedly spoken out about Gabbard’s links to Sangh Parivar groups. On June 11, OFMI reported that Gabbard would chair the WHC while Bhagwat would keynote. On June 13, OFMI issued an open letter to Gabbard urging her to end her relationship with groups that promote Hindu nationalism. On June 23, OFMI released a video asking when Gabbard will reject links to “fascist RSS/BJP.” On July 12, OFMI released a report and accompanying video entitled “Fascist Hindu Nationalism Besieges India’s Minorities” and distributed them as an an appeal to Gabbard to reject “fascist links.” Finally, on August 1, OFMI released a video entitled, “Does Tulsi Gabbard Represent India’s Religious Fanatics?”
The text of the coalition letter follows:
Subject: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s association with extreme right wing hate groups in India & the U.S.
We are writing to bring to your attention the horrific nature of the hate groups organizing the World Hindu Congress (WHC), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s ties with these organizations. Our hope is that you, and other progressive voices persuade Tulsi Gabbard to not only withdraw from the WHC, but also to issue a public statement that she will not associate with such groups in the future. We feel strongly that such a statement is necessary given this video in which Gabbard states that she is honored to be the chair of WHC thus lending legitimacy, as a U.S. Congressperson, to the hate groups organizing the WHC.
What is the WHC?
The second World Hindu Congress is being organized in Chicago, September 7-9. The stated purpose of WHC 2018 is: “The World Hindu Congress (WHC) is a global platform for Hindus to connect, share ideas, inspire one another, and impact the common good”. Officially, the World Hindu Congress is being organized by the World Hindu Foundation (based in Gurgaon, India). But going through the names of WHC’s Organizing Council, it becomes amply clear that the real organization behind the event is Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (World Hindu Council of America, VHPA), along with the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh or HSS, the official U.S. arm of India’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS. The coordinator of WHC 2018, Dr. Abhaya Asthana, is also the president of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), and Dr. Shamkant Sheth, the official conference host is also the president of VHPA’s Chicago chapter, while Mr. Shailesh Rajput, secretary of VHPA-Chicago, is listed on the WHC website as the main contact for the conference, with all queries being directed to . Further, Mr. Sanjay Kaul, a VHPA operative, is WHC’s East USA coordinator, while Mr. Darshan Soni and Mr. Moulik Shukla, WHC coordinators for Central and Western USA, respectively, are both members of the HSS.
VHP-A is the American arm of the nefarious Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an organization whose role in various incidents of communal violence in India is very well documented. VHP is also officially classified as a “militant religious organization” by the U.S. administration.
Why should progressives oppose the WHC?
The VHP and its sister organizations, the RSS and Bajrang Dal are part of the Sangh Parivar, a network of Hindu nationalist organizations. They have a long track record of intimidation of minorities, incitement of hatred and violence, and are linked to many acts of terror in India which have been documented by the Indian and international media, as well as Indian and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc. The political party BJP is the political wing of the Sangh Parivar. Since the BJP came to power in India in 2014, there have been 100+ mob lynchings of minorities, including members of Dalit and indigenous communities, by these extremist organizations under the disguise of “cow protection”. In most of these instances, the perpetrators are roaming free while the victims, if they survive the lynchings, are being harassed with trumped-up cases for consuming or transporting beef. Elected officials from the BJP have been fostering this environment of hatred- in a recent instance of such brazen endorsement of this violence, a cabinet minister of the BJP was photographed garlanding 8 people convicted of lynching a Muslim man when they were released on bail a year after the incident. In fact, this endorsement of violence goes all the way up to the prime minister- Mr. Modi has continued to follow individuals on social media that celebrated the murder of an investigative journalist, even after that fact was reported and debated in mainstream media.
Many of the attendees of the WHC are elected officials from the BJP that either directly engage in hate speech or have silently endorsed hate speech inciting people to kill and rape minorities. Many instances of such hate speech have been captured on video. For instance, one of the invitees, Ajay Singh Bisht, known as Yogi Adityanath, who is the chief minister of most populous state in India, has many cases pending against him, including for murder and hate speech, and is also the founder of Hindu Yuva Vahini, a vigilante organization. Another attendee, Mohan Bhagwat, is the head of the RSS, an organization that was banned multiple times in India for its involvement in violent communal riots. The perpetrators of many terrorist attacks on minorities in India are either current or former operatives of the RSS. In fact, one of the masterminds of these attacks confessedthat WHC speaker, Mohan Bhagwat, directly ordered some of these attacks.
How is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard associated with the Hindu Right?
Rep. Gabbard participated, in multiple instances, in events organized by the Sangh Parivar in the US:
— Among others, she attended an ‘Overseas Friends of BJP’ (OFBJP) conference in Atlanta on 22nd August 2014, and was photographed wearing a BJP sash.
— In this video of her speech at the event, she admits that she is in touch on a “if not daily basis, a weekly basis” with HAF [0:52]. She also admits that she attended another event with the same group an year earlier [0:05].
— In the same video, she congratulates the audience for their efforts to get the BJP elected
— Another video of the same OFBJP conference, in which Dhiru Shah of the HAF encourages the audience to donate to Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign because they need her support [at 1:00].
— Attended and spoke at the World Hindu Economic Forum in Irvine, CA in November, 2016
— Criticized the testimonial that the vice-Chair of U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom, Katrina Lantos, offered to Tom Lantos’ Human Rights Commission regarding the impact of the BJP government on minority rights in India.
— In December 2013, prior to Modi’s election, Gabbard opposed HR 417, which praised India’s “rich religious diversity and commitment to tolerance and equality” but reaffirmed “the need to protect am the rights and freedoms of religious minorities,” specifically referring to incidents of deadly violence against minority Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, when Modi was the state’s chief minister.
— Attended and spoke at World Hindu Council of America (VHPA)’s Diwali celebration in Atlanta in 2013.
What are our demands?
We believe that an elected representative of the US congress like Tulsi Gabbard getting involved with an event organized and attended by such extremist individuals will lend legitimacy to these despicable organizations.
Therefore, we demand that —
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard should not attend the WHC.
- Tulsi Gabbard should issue a public statement clarifying that she will not be attending the WHC.
- Politicians and media outlets should hold Tulsi Gabbard accountable for her association with these hate groups.
We look forward to hearing from you in response to the concerns raised above.
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action, San Francisco, CA (asata.org)
Ambedkar King Study Circle, San Jose, CA (akscusa.org)
Bhim Rao Ambedkar Sikh Foundation, Kent, WA (brasf.org)
Chicago Desi Youth Rising (CDYR), Chicago, IL (chicagodesiyouthrising.wordpress.com)
Chicago South Asians for Justice, Chicago, IL
India Civil Watch, New York, NY
Indian-American Muslim Council, Boston, MA (iamc.com)
Organization For Minorities of India (ofmi.org)
Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle-America, San Jose, CA (pascamerica.org)
Sadhana: A Coalition of Progressive Hindus, New York, NY (sadhana.org)
Sikh Information Centre, Stockton, CA (sikhinformationcentre.org)
Pieter Friedrich is a Californian researcher, author, and speaker on the interconnections between historical and current affairs