The US Capitol is set to host the first-ever Hindu American Summit for Political Engagement on Wednesday, 14 June, organised by the Americans4Hindus (A4H) Political Action Committee and 20 other Hindu diaspora bodies, which aims to "raise the concerns of the Hindu community before lawmakers."
Not only is the Summit set to see an address from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, but it will also witness close to 130 Hindu American leaders from Florida, New York, Boston, Texas, Chicago, and California representing 20 Hindu organisations making an appearance.
The Summit comes just a week before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to travel to the United States for an official state visit hosted by US President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. The visit seems to be aimed at deepening the US-India strategic partnership, but it will also see Modi's outreach to massive crowds of the Indian diaspora across the US.
‘Where Are Other Hindu Groups?’: Critics Hit Out at 'Hindu Nationalist Summit'
Under the condition of anonymity, The Quint spoke to an individual with close ties to the A4H and the event's organisers. Commenting on the organisation’s motive behind the event, they said:
"If you have one look at the list of invited organisations, you realise that the motivation is not political, but more about a fight of ideology and policy. If it were actually political, the summit would also have multiple progressive Hindu groups, all of whom fall under the ‘Hindu American’ banner. This has turned into a Hindu nationalist summit."
Moreover, they claimed that Hindu American lobby groups in the US position themselves as Hindu “but are really Hindu nationalist.”
Raju Rajagopal, co-founder of the Hindus for Human Rights, spoke to The Quint and said, "If it's truly Hindu American Summit, where are Dalit Hindu organisations? Where are regional Hindu organisations, like the Tamil Sangam or Maharashtrian and Bengali Associations, who are at the heart of Hindus in the US?"
Hindus for Human Rights say that they are one of the few Hindu organisations mobilising the Hindu community against caste and Hindutva. Their name did not feature on the list of expected attendees.
While groups like A4H are allowed to host an event at the Capitol, there is precedent for lawmakers to step in and cancel such summits. During the first week of May 2023, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to deliver a keynote address at the Hindu American Summit, shut down an event on the 75th anniversary of the Nakba in Palestine.
Further characterising the organisations that are set to attend the Summit, the individual with close ties to the A4H told The Quint that it was their ideological similarities on the basis of which they practice advocacy on Hindu issues, but added that claiming they represent the entire Hindu American community is a “sham” and “certainly not true.”
“Whether it's the caste discrimination bill in California or Seattle or the effort to stop the Senate from passing the Combating International Islamophobia Act earlier last year, groups attending this summit would be found there. They’re flocking by ideology and calling it a community event.”Individual with close ties to the Americans4Hindus
However, tangible outcomes from such events are scarce, and they are perceived as a show of strength.
During a phone call with The Quint, Ria Chakrabarty, policy director at Hindus for Human Rights, said, "All such summits do is alter perceptions. It creates news stories, many of which are misleadingly reported, to portray an extraordinary show of support for such organisations and ideologies. It has usually doesn't moved the needle in Congress in any material way."
“Best case, it creates a new narrative and garners robust support for their agenda, but it is unlikely to change anyone’s mind in Congress unless it is a resounding, unignorable success,” she added.
‘Directly Tied to RSS’: Who Are the 20 ‘Hindu Groups’ Behind the Event?
The Hindu American Summit will see the participation of various organisations, including:
American Hindu Coalition
American Hindu Federation
Americans for Equality PAC
Federation of Indian Americans
Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies
Hindu Action PAC of Florida
Hindu Swyamsevak Sangha
Hindu University of America
Kashmir Hindu Foundation
US India Relationship Council
World Hindu Council of America
But organisations like these are not simply rights organisations, and have mandates for advocacy and outreach, according to their affiliates. In this case, several organisations participating in the event have links to the Rashtriya Samajsewak Sangh (RSS).
The American Hindu Coalition’s founder Shekhar Tewari has remained an active member of the RSS, and a report by The Hindu said that he stays in touch with the organisation’s top leadership.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) shares ideological roots with far-right Hindu nationalist organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), even though it claims to be legally separate from its Indian counterpart.
Hindus for Human Rights' Raju Rajagopal further told The Quint, “If you look at two of the more prominent organisations on the list, Ekal Vidyalaya and Sewa International, both of them have links to RSS and VHP in India, and they've presumptively been the largest fundraisers for the Sangh Parivar in the US."
The event's main organisers, that is the Americans4Hindus PAC, describe itself as a “non-partisan independent political action committee” that “helps empower Hindu Americans and other Americans, who share our values and views on policy positions.”
Moreover, it claims that A4H was set up "in response to recent anti-India and anti-Hindu statements and actions by members of the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic party that have aggrieved a large swath of the Hindu American community."
The A4H’s founder and chairman Dr Romesh Japra also has “strong links to the RSS” and was characterised as “one of the oldest RSS affiliates in the Bay Area,” sources told The Quint.
Moreover, according to a report released by the South Asia Citizen Web, Ekal Vidyalaya, the VHPA, and Sewa International were part of a group of seven “Sangh-affiliated charitable groups” who “spent at least $158.9 million on their programming, sending much of it to groups in India” from 2001 to 2019.
The report stated that Hindu nationalists in the US represent “Sangh groups as cultural gatekeepers and representatives of Hindus; fund Sangh groups in India; insert support for Hindutva histories into US academic institutions and textbooks; shift US domestic and foreign policy pertaining to South Asia; finance Sangh friendly politicians and target their critics.”
‘Political, Not Ideological’: What Have the Organisers Said?
Japra, who is a cardiologist by profession, previously said that while Hindu Americans are prosperous, they lack similar political stature. He told news agency PTI, "Politically, we believe we have never faced discrimination and that we are doing well. But unfortunately, the tides are changing. I’m from California, where they now want to add caste to the list of discriminating factors."
The Quint has reached out to Dr Romesh Japra and the Americans4Hindus PAC. This story will be updated once a response is received.
The recent ordinances in Seattle and California that prevent and tackle caste discrimination, and make caste a protected category, have drawn severe criticism from organisations associated with the Hindu American summit.
While Hindu American groups like HAF, CoHNA and A4F believe that caste discrimination is a non-issue in the US, a report published by Equality Labs in 2018, casteism is rampant among South Asian Americans.
Japra had said that organisations like Equality Labs, which is a Dalit civil rights organisation in the US, are making moves to “dismantle Hinduism.”
Japra also claimed that groups like Equity Labs and Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE) are “behind many of these things (anti-Hindu activities),” PTI further reported.
Meanwhile, in a statement accessed by news agency ANI, Japra said that apart from McCarthy, several other Congressional leaders, both from the Democrat and Republican side, are expected to address the Summit.