Has Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna Abandoned His Principled Stand Against Hindutva?

Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna has been instrumental in inviting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the joint session of US Congress on June 22, 2023. This came as a surprise to many of his constituents who voted for him after he declared in 2019: “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 & Christians.”  

L to R: Narendra Modi, JOe Biden, Ro Khanna

What caused this change of heart?  Is it the donation of $110,000 to his campaign by Hindu Nationalist donors in the United States, as reported by The Nation?  Fellow Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has also supported Modi's invitation. She will be among members of Congress who will escort Modi to the podium. Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal are both supposedly "liberal" Democrats.   

While Khanna says that he “strongly opposes any form of caste discrimination”, he has not endorsed California SB 403, a bill sponsored by Senator Aisha Wahab and supported by Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, that outlaws caste discrimination in the state. 

Modi’s US visit comes at a time of rising state persecution of religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians.  Modi's BJP-affiliated politicians have called for genocide against Indian Muslims, attacked mosques and churches, and demolished homes, according to The Nation.  The Biden administration has been silent on these issues, choosing instead to try and strengthen the US-India relationship and deepen the ties between the countries’ military and technology sectors.  For the last four years, the Biden Administration has ignored the USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) recommendation to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern” and impose strategic sanctions on Indian government officials and agencies involved in religious freedom violations. 

On the eve of Prime Minister Modi's visit to Washington, the USCIRF has urged President Biden to discuss with him its concerns about the lack of religious freedom in India. “With India’s upcoming state visit, the Biden administration has a unique opportunity to explicitly incorporate religious freedom concerns into the two countries’ bilateral relationship,” said USCIRF Commissioner David Curry. “It is vital the U.S. government acknowledge the Indian government’s perpetration and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom against its own population and urge the government to uphold its human rights obligations.”

Instead of condemning India for allowing the oppression of minorities and denying media freedom, US officials have applauded the Modi government.  US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has described Modi as “unbelievable, visionary” and “the most popular world leader.” Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, has praised press freedom in India: “You have India as a democracy in part because you have a free press that really works.”  This is in sharp contrast with the findings of the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders 2023 World Press Freedom Index, which has ranked India 161, out of 180 countries due to its crackdown on the press. India's neighbor Pakistan ranks 150, 11 places above India, on this Index. 

Khanna's recent about-face is seen as a betrayal by many of his constituents who supported him because of his rejection of Hindutva. South Asian social justice activists Anu Mandavilli, Deepa Iyer, Karthikeyan Shanmughan and others have strongly criticized Khanna. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 23, 2023 at 8:56am
Modi's Gaffes in US Congress
In a humorous scene during PM Modi's address to the US Congress, the Indian prime minister made a faux pas by switching the word 'Investing' with 'Investigating'. During his speech, PM Modi said, "I believe that investigating in a girl child lifts up entire family," instead he was supposed to say "Investing in a girl child lifts up entire family." Modi was seen trying to read out his speech from a teleprompter.
Congress Sevadal, grassroots frontal organisation of Indian National Congress took it to their Twitter and took a jibe at PM Modi's slip of tongue and shared the video with a humourous caption. Higlighting PM Modi's earlier blunders during his speech, Congress Sevadal captioned the post as, "After reading Mrs. from teleprompter MRS and explaining extra 2ab in a plus b whole square formula, here comes 'INVESTIGATING' in a girl child..!"
Prashant Bhushan
He should have stuck to Hindi. You can be a Viswaguru, yet refrain from showing off your English. Reading English from a teleprompter can also be difficult for an MA in 'Entire political science'

Ashok Swain
This guy can’t even read from teleprompters but claims that he has a Master in Entire Political Science!
Comment by Riaz Haq on June 23, 2023 at 11:12am

Satish Acharya
We don't discriminate on the basis of religion-PM Modi in the US.


Comment by Riaz Haq on June 25, 2023 at 1:25pm

The Biden-Modi Meeting Was a Failure for Democracy | Time


by Knox Thames

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received VIP treatment at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue this week, including a state dinner with President Biden and an address to Congress. Modi’s red-carpet treatment was a significant endorsement of his governance, and one few world leaders have received. However, under Modi’s premiership, India has moved away from shared values and democratic norms, embracing Hindu nationalism and scapegoating religious minorities. While President Biden and Congressional leaders spoke about human rights and religious freedom, talk alone will not move Modi to change course.

Modi accomplished much during his brief time in Washington, at little cost to his political agenda. The Joint Statement from the United States and Indiacovers a laundry list of Indian priorities. While the document references human rights at the beginning, its 58 paragraphs overwhelmingly focus on technology and trade in ways hugely beneficial to India. Modi also scored a renewed pledge to permanently include India in a reformed United Nations Security Council and joint slap down of archrival Pakistan for terrorism.

But did Modi deserve this treatment? The U.S. secured little in hard security commitments from him or other items that could bolster democracy and human rights in the region. For instance, Modi has been lukewarm at best regarding support for Ukraine. During the White House press conference, Modi could only vaguely speak of ending the “dispute through dialogue and diplomacy.” There was no joint condemnation of Russian aggression, a low bar to meet.

In contrast, Modi’s visit vastly exceeded Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s recent trip, who received neither coveted invitation of a state dinner or congressional speech, “special relationship” notwithstanding. In fact, when Modi took the rostrum before Congress on Thursday, it was his second address before a joint session, while the last British Prime Minister spoke in 2006.

But in the contest with Beijing, commitment to “shared values” was a constant refrain to justify Modi’s lavish treatment. Indeed, a democratic India would be a powerful partner in countering authoritarian China, but these values are under attack in India. Indian activists and political analysts I contacted all expressed deep concern about the state of affairs, most only agreeing to talk off the record. One highlighted, “Serious violations of human rights, especially of Muslims, Christians, and other minorities, and of human rights defenders and dissenters, have been increasing in India over the past years, some becoming widespread and systematic.” Another analyst described the defamation case against opposition leader Rahul Gandhi as “pure vendetta politics.” A third activist spoke of the ongoing “desecration, destruction and torching of over 300 Churches in Manipur [that] is unprecedented in the history of religious violence in India,” which continues in India’s far east.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 25, 2023 at 1:25pm

The Biden-Modi Meeting Was a Failure for Democracy | Time


by Knox Thames

When a journalist asked Modi at the White House about declining respect for human rights and democracy, he dodged, saying, “I’m actually really surprised that people say so.” While Biden acknowledged our shortcomings, demonstrating humility but a commitment to civil rights, Modi offered no such concession, saying Indian democracy has delivered for all “regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender.” He added, “There’s absolutely no space for discrimination,” which would surprise religious minorities in India.

As the visit approached, many feared officials would overlook these issues, and 75 Democratic Members of Congress wrote Biden to urge him to raise human rights. To his credit, the President did so repeatedly, but always as a joint endeavor. For instance, he said, “Equity under the law, freedom of expression, religious pluralism, and diversity of our people—these core principles have endured and evolved, even as they have faced challenges throughout each of our nations’ histories, and will fuel our strength, depth, and future.” At another point, he noted, “Indians and Americans are both peoples who … cherish freedom and celebrate the democratic values of universal human rights, which face challenges around the world and each—and in each of our countries but which remain so vital to the success of each of our nations: press freedom, religious freedom, tolerance, diversity.”

While understandable Biden wouldn’t be too pointed with his guest, Modi is savvy enough to know that nods towards human rights will be shunted aside for commercial and military relations. He’s seen it before, as silence towards problems in India is not unique to this administration. Then-President Trump ignored riots against Muslims in New Delhi during his 2020 visit, and his administration resisted calls to designate India a “country of particular concern” for the persecution of Christians.

Consequently, to counter India’s drift away from shared values, the U.S. must decide to visibly support Indian civil society, publicly discuss our concerns, and establish consequences for abuses. Aakar Patel, Chair of Amnesty International’s India Board, stressed to me the importance of U.S. human rights advocacy. Amnesty’s India office was forced to close in 2020, and the Indian government tried to prevent him from traveling internationally in 2022. Patel underscored how “India’s friend must press it to do the right thing because often it works.” Jesuit Priest Cedric Prakash, a long-time human rights and peace activist, also agreed. Despite our complicated history in the region, Fr Prakash said, “it’s imperative that the U.S. raise these sensitive issues with the PM and stop pretending that all is well in India.”

India is too important for U.S. policymakers to ignore these trends, and Modi’s damaging policies should not lead to self-censorship. The U.S.’s recent criticism of important partners like Poland, Bangladesh, and Israeldemonstrates we can raise concerns and deepen relationships simultaneously. In addition, we can learn from our disastrous all-carrots-and-no-stick approach to China in the early 2000s. Many believed preferential trade could encourage China in a positive direction when the Senate voted for most-favored-nation status in September 2000. Instead, the Chinese Communist Party gained technology and resources while nose diving on human rights and consolidating power. Modi’s windfall of trade policies absent consequences for rights abuses risks repeating the same mistake.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 8, 2023 at 8:01am

Speaking at an event, (Bollywood Actor) Kajol said, “…Chnage especially in a country like India is slow. It’s very very slow because for one we are steeped in our tradition, steeped in our thought process and, of course, it has to be with tradition. You have political leaders who do not have educational system background. I’m sorry I’m going to go out and say that.”


She added, “We are being ruled by leaders, so many of them, who do not have that viewpoint which I think education gives you.”

Kajol’s comments evoked angry reactions from BJP supporters who felt that the popular actor was taking a potshot at Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose educational qualification has been a matter of intense scrutiny for many years. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had recently accused him of being ‘uneducated’ while others raised questions on his alleged fake degree.

Modi and his administration have refused all attempts to make his degree public fearing that this could expose the Indian PM’s educational qualification.

BJP supporters launched brutal attack on Kajol for her comments. Many accused her being influenced by the thought process of Muslim actors particularly Shah Rukh Khan. The pair of Shah Rukh and Kajol ruled the box office in the late 90s and 2020s.

Facing backlash from BJP supporters, Kajol issued a clarification stating that she wasn’t pointing at anyone in particular. She wrote, “I was merely making a point about education and its importance. My intention was not to demean any political leaders, we have some great leaders who are guiding the country on the right path.”

Kajol, meanwhile, has found plenty of support from netizens, who wondered why her comments had irked only Modi supporters even though the actor did not name anyone.

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi wrote, “So Kajol says we are governed by leaders who are uneducated and have no vision. Nobody outraging since its her opinion not necessarily a fact and also has named nobody but all Bhakts are outraged. Please don’t Yale your Entire Political Science knowledge.”

Comedian Kunal Kamra tweeted, “Everyone is pointing out that Actress Kajol hasn’t finished her education & I believe that’s the only reason that she feels an educated leadership can help our country.”

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 21, 2023 at 7:18pm

Dr. Audrey Truschke
Read for thinking about Hindu nationalist influences in US politics and how some “progressives” are quite the opposite, to the point of pushing far-right interests.



The Indian American congressman says he has a duty to reject Hindu nationalism. But does his record stand up to scrutiny?


When India was subject to intense international scrutiny following Narendra Modi's decision to annex Indian-controlled Kashmir in late August 2019, an article in The Caravan, India's premier long-form magazine, began doing the rounds on social media.

The long read, written by activist Peter Friedrich, detailed the role of the Hindu nationalist lobby in American politics, and focused on then-Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii.

Friedrich forensically outlined how the Hindu right-wing paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had funded Gabbard in exchange for helping rehabilitate Modi's image in the United States.

But it wasn't just the article that caught the attention of South Asian Americans.

Instead, it was the unprompted interjection by an Indian American lawmaker from California.

"Important article," tweeted Congressman Ro Khanna from the 17th district in California, widely known as Silicon Valley, the only district in continental America with an Asian majority.

"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, Buddhists and Christians. That is the vision of India my grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar fought for," the Congressman added.

Vidyalankar was an Indian activist who became a member of the Indian National Congress and later an MP in post-independent India.

Until then, the question of rising Hindu nationalism in India under Modi was mostly limited to segments of the Indian-American community, particularly Muslims, Dalits and Christians, as well as the Kashmiri diaspora.

But in a single tweet, the pro-union Khanna, known for pushing for stronger gun legislation and a key voice, along with Senator Bernie Sanders, in pushing for an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, had taken the spectre of the role of Hindu nationalism in US politics to the very seat of the US government.

Amar Shergill, an executive board member of the California Democratic Party (CDP) and chair of the CDP Progressive Caucus, described the moment as a "political shift" in the South Asian American community.

"It reverberated from its origin in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party with implications for the United States, India and world geopolitics," Shergill wrote.

Predictably, Khanna endured a blitz of criticism from Hindu nationalist groups and individuals. More than 200 Indian American organisations would go on to register complaints against him, forcing him to hold a town hall to address the allegations.

Khanna was even asked to resign from the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.

At the time Khanna stood firm. He called his detractors fringe elements and Trump supporters.

"I have no tolerance for right-wing nationalists who are affiliating with Trump. And let me tell you something - they're in an echo chamber, but their bigotry, their right-wing nationalism, their support for Trump or for white supremacy is a minority," Khanna said.

"But they will see that our district is pluralistic and I have no problem standing up against them," he added.

Comment by Riaz Haq on July 21, 2023 at 7:19pm

The Indian American congressman says he has a duty to reject Hindu nationalism. But does his record stand up to scrutiny?


Four years later, activists and observers say, Khanna appears to have adopted a more realist approach to the rise of Hindu nationalism.

When it became known that Modi would be travelling on his first state visit to the US in June, Khanna in his capacity as co-chair of the India Caucus, wrote a bipartisan letter calling for Modi to address a joint seating of Congress.

Ahead of the visit, activists and observers warned that Khanna's invitation was as good as an endorsement of Hindu nationalist policies.

Shergill, chair of the CDP Progressive Caucus, told Middle East Eye that although he understood the need for the US to strengthen ties with India, it was a mistake to have honoured Modi with a state dinner and an address to Congress.

"The India Caucus, the Sikh Caucus, and all South Asian congressional representatives have a special duty to hold Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accountable," he said.

"Representative Khanna must do better," Shergill added.

Activists pointed out that during the four years where Khanna had pointedly rejected Hindu nationalism, the Hindu nationalist project had reached the higher echelons of the Indian state, in which it had become routine for right-wing Hindu monks to call for ethnic cleansing without consequence.

Several indicators, too, showed freedom of speech, along with religious and minority rights, were now in free fall. Indian democracy is now characterised as "flawed," according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Indiex, and in its latest World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders has ranked India 161 out of 180 countries due to media suppression.

In response to the volley of criticism for his now purported endorsement of Modi, Khanna found himself repeating one of the central tenets of his approach to foreign policy: respecting and engaging a democratic elected leadership did not preclude speaking out on human rights.

"I believe that the prime minister is an elected leader of 1.4 billion people and the way to make progress on human rights is to engage with the Indian PM," Khanna told Democracy Now.

But it is an approach that has left activists facing up to Hindu nationalism perplexed.

American interests
Since joining Congress in 2016, Khanna has straddled a fine line between satisfying Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and the employees who work for them.

Not only has this allowed Khanna to position himself as a "progressive" politician, he has skillfully backed himself as an almost indispensible interlocutor between the tech giants and their needs in Washington.

Khanna describes himself as "a leading progressive voice in the House working to restore American manufacturing and technology leadership, improve the lives of working people, and advance US leadership on climate, human rights, and diplomacy around the world."

As a “progressive capitalist”, Khanna proselytises the benefits of democratising access to technology as a means to resurrect the innovative character of the American economy.

He also sees it as the United States' best chance to remain a world leader. As his bio reads: "Silicon Valley's CA-17. New economic patriotism & restoring American manufacturing. Pro working families. Ending endless wars. No PAC $. He/Him."

In an op-ed in 2018, he wrote about his journey from a small town in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to congressman of the "most economically powerful congressional district in the world".


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