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How Modi fans almost hijacked Republican Indian American meet

By Aziz Haniffa
November 22, 2013 14:31 IST
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The BJP has been left red-faced, this time in the United States.

Republican leaders say that the flyer about Modi’s address at the meet was fake and no such invitation has been extended to the Gujarat chief minister.   

The Republican leadership is incensed over the attempt by some Hindutva elements in the United States to promote Gujarat Chief Minister and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to piggyback on the first-ever Republican Indian American Meetup.

Congressional sources told that although the meet had gone on without a hitch because the fraud had been detected in time, the efforts by Modi’s supporters in the US -- led by Chicago-based entrepreneur Shalabh ‘Shalli’ Kumar and his cronies -- had cast a pall over the carefully planned strategy to woo Indian Americans to the Grand Old Party, including the majority percentage of the community who have traditionally remained in the Democratic camp.

The GOP leadership found out that Kumar had circulated a flyer under the aegis of the National Indian American Public Policy Institute, which he had founded, that indicated that Modi would address the meeting via a video link. The flyer had a House seal and showcased Modi as one of the speakers along with other prominent House Republicans with all of their pictures, apparently used without the permission of any of these lawmakers.

On the eve of the Meetup the Republican leadership denied that it had extended any invitation to Modi and castigated Kumar for ‘misrepresenting’ the Republican Party.

The office of Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chair, House Republican Conference, served Kumar with a ‘cease and desist’ letter to stop misrepresenting the party and the intent of the meet-up.

Nicolas D Muzin, director, Outreach & Coalitions, House Republican Conference, informed journalists about this in and e-mail and said, “Additionally, I believe he (Kumar) is in violation of ethics rules regarding improper use of the Congressional seal, stationary, and indicia. I have been in touch with the House committee on administration about steps we can take to properly distance ourselves from his actions.”

Congressman Pete Sessions, one of the lawmakers whose name and visage were included in Kumar’s flyer, according to his aides was “hopping mad.” 

He issued a statement saying, “At no point in time did I agree to attend this event, nor did I approve of the use of my name or image on this invitation. Further, I did not see the invitation until it had been distributed publicly. Had I known that my name and image were on this invitation before it was distributed, I would have requested that they both be removed.” “Additionally, I have contacted NIAPPI to request that they remove my name and image from this invitation and that they explicitly ask my approval before using my name or image in any of their materials going forward.” 

Congressional sources close to the senior Republican leadership lay much of the blame for Kumar’s deception at the feet of Rodgers, who they said had been cultivated by Kumar to the Modi interacts with the US delegation in Gandhinagarextent that she was “pretty much willing to do whatever he wanted.”

They noted that Kumar, under the NIAPPI banner, had taken Rodgers and some other GOP lawmakers to India earlier this year and gotten them an audience with Modi and pointed out that she had provided Kumar with an accompanying letter to his flyer, mentioning ‘Bharat Divas’ and the invitation to Modi to address the conference.

Despite this correspondent and others buttonholing Rodgers and even some of her aides on the day of the event as to why she had provided such a letter, the Congresswoman rushed off without answering the questions.

Earlier, calls to her office and asking for a response on this letter also did not elicit any answers.

These sources said that for all of Muzin’s assurances that Kumar had been severely reprimanded by the HRC and Rodgers’s office, they pointed out that he had not been removed from the HRC’s advisory council and assailed Rodgers for continuing to pander to him.

According to one source, “This idiotic effort at deception and fraud has backfired to the extent that most of the lawmakers will now be on the defensive when it comes to Mr Modi.” 

Another sarcastically quipped, “I wonder if Mr Kumar is working for the anti-Modi forces.”

The purported Modi appearance via video link began to unravel when anti-Modi forces in the US, led by the Coalition Against Genocide, got wind of the flyer and began contacting the offices of the lawmakers featured in the invitation.

The CAG said in a press statement, “After five days of phone calls, letters, document verification and hundreds of e-mails between CAG activists and Congressional staffers, several members of the House Republican conference whose names had been used to endorse the Modi event have washed their hands off the event… CAG activists spoke with the offices of Republican Greg Walden and Republican Bob Goodlatte seeking clarification, since their pictures appeared on the flyer. Staffers from both Congressmen’s offices stated categorically that they were unaware of the event, or that the Congressmen’s names and pictures were being used without authorisation to promote it.”

The CAG called on the House ethics committee “to launch an investigation into the fraudulent use of the House seal, and the fake projection of GOP support for the event.” It also called upon Rodgers to expel Kumar from the HRC’s Indian American advisory board and publicly disassociate herself from NIAPPI and Modi. 

“The NIAPPI, the key agent behind this misrepresentation and fraudulent promotional tactics, is a Hindu nationalist front organisation posing as a public policy institute. It is a resting ground for RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) stalwarts,” it said.
Biju Mathew of CAG added, “A person who openly resorts to fraud to promote a human rights abuser like Narendra Modi should not be representing the Indian-American community at the House Republican conference.”

As a consequence of Kumar’s failed attempt the CAG and other anti-Modi forces were able to get a bipartisan

Congressional resolution introduced in the House of Representatives calling on the US government to continue the policy of denying a visa to Modi on the grounds of religious freedom violations. 

The resolution also called on India to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities and urged the Obama administration to include this on the agenda as part of the US-India strategic dialogue.

The resolution was introduced by Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Republican Congressman Joe Pitts from Pennsylvania and co-sponsored by more than a dozen lawmakers and referred to the committee on foreign affairs’ subcommittee on Asia and Pacific, which has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to South Asia.

Ellison said, “All Indians should have the right to practice their faith freely, or to change their faith if they so choose. India is big enough for all its citizens. Its best leaders have worked to promote unity among its diverse populations, not division.” 

Pitts said, “The victims of events like the riots in Gujarat demand justice.”

The Ellison-Pitts resolution was condemned by the Hindu American Foundation.  “It ignores recent jihadi terror attacks while recalling decades old violence, and it fails to contextualise India’s history with religious riots,” HAF said. “Pitts, who made headlines as one of the largest recipients of financial largesse from the convicted Pakistani spy,

Ghulam Nabi Fai, to promote Pakistan’s agenda on Kashmir, teamed up with Ellison last year for a similar resolution that barely attracted a handful of co-sponsors.”

HAF also complained that the resolution ‘specifically’ censured Modi.

Jay Kansara, associate director, government relations, HAF, said, “It fails to note that the Supreme Court’s special investigative team pointedly absolved Narendra Modi of any complicity in the horrific riots in Gujarat that followed the burning of Hindu pilgrims on a train by a Muslim mob.”

Suhag Shukla, executive director and legal counsel, HAF, told, “The omissions in this resolution are simply a reflection of Congressman Ellison’s demonstrated animus towards engaging all stakeholders to gain better insight into inter-religious dynamics in India.”

She recalled, “During HAF’s first attempt to engage directly with the Congressman in 2009, we were confronted with questions which appeared to arise from a rather Hinduphobic presumption -- that all Hindus necessarily prescribe to divisive ideologies.” 

“In a subsequent meeting with one of his senior staff members in 2010, our delegation was met with outright hostility for not having condemned inter-religious violence that occurred prior to HAF even being founded. When we broached the topic of atrocities committed against minority Hindus in Pakistan or Bangladesh, the staffer would evade and revert to his violence against Muslims in India talking points.”

She added, “Until Congressman Ellison is willing to interact meaningfully with Hindu Americans and promote religious freedom for all people, regardless of their religion, it’s probably best that these sorts of ideologically motivated resolutions not detract from the more important goal of supporting and promoting secular democracies in the region.”

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