A team of Congressman Tom McClintock’s constituents visited him on 8 November to register dissent against US Ambassador Atul Keshap’s recent meeting with the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary with a violent and powerful presence in India.
McClintock, a Republican from the Greater Sacramento area of California, spent the better part of an hour hearing the group’s concerns, particularly about the nature of Keshap’s meeting. The team argued that the meet came across as a promotional photo-op which legitimized the RSS and its Hindu nationalist agenda. They presented a 40-page info packet detailing the RSS and the growing controversy over Keshap’s visit with the paramilitary.
“By engaging with RSS officials and discussing their ideology, the United States could lend legitimacy to this controversial group and further jeopardize the communities that the RSS has targeted,” warned Congressman David Trone in September. Human Rights Watch’s Asia Advocacy Director, John Sifton, took things a step further, comparing the meeting to if the US Ambassador to Germany in 1933 had attended a Nazi rally at Nuremberg. The Nazis faded away, but the RSS is still carrying on the torch of Nazism as the world’s largest and oldest continuously existing original Fascist movement.
Balbir Singh Dhillon, the president of West Sacramento Gurdwara, joined the meeting with McClintock to explain how the RSS targets not just Christians and Muslims but also Sikhs. “The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is just the slave of RSS,” says Dhillon. “Look how top BJP officials push people to attack our farmers. Sikhs are a threat to RSS because we want diversity and equality for all people, so RSS attacks us.” He points to last month’s violence in Lakhimpuri Kheri, where four Sikh farmers were killed allegedly by the son of a BJP cabinet minister.
Congressman McClintock was further presented with information about the correlation between Keshap’s RSS meet and a recent massive spike in anti-minority violence throughout India. In October, several BJP leaders and elected officials were filmed urging vigilante violence against Sikh farmers, leading mobs chanting slogans about cutting apart Muslims, and applauding Hindu priests as they endorsed beheading Christians. While correlation is not causation, the increasingly open participation of BJP officials in mob violence, the diversity of communities simultaneously being targeted, and the geographical extent of the incidents — all following within weeks of Keshap’s meeting — all suggest that the RSS (which views non-Hindus as “traitors” and seeks to cleanse them from the country) was emboldened to pursue its xenophobic agenda with a perceived official stamp of approval from the US government’s representative in India.
US interests and national security concerns are inevitably impacted by a Fascist India, especially as the US pursues an intimate trade and military alliance with the country.
Yet it also impacts US citizens at home in America. Father Joshua Lickter, a local Anglican priest, explained to McClintock how Indian American converts to Christianity face life-threatening situations if they return to India. I pointed out to the Congressman how the RSS has an international wing — Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) — which operates in America as a support base for the RSS-BJP in India. I further noted that the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) — the BJP’s international wing — has a long history of working in sync with the HSS, has mobilized thousands of RSS-BJP sympathizers to travel from America to India to work to get the BJP elected, and was just last year registered as a Foreign Agent after nearly 30 years in operation.
I additionally attempted to explain, in the short time we had, how former President Trump was virtually promised re-election by BJP Prime Minister (and RSS member) Modi, how a BJP General Secretary openly threatened interference in the 2020 US Presidential Election, how various US politicians have been caught participating in events with the OFBJP, and how various top OFBJP and HSS leaders have been documented in what appears to be systematic financing of particular members of US Congress in apparent exchange for their sympathies towards the current RSS-BJP regime.
Congressman McClintock listened with interest. While acknowledging he has little prior knowledge about the issue, and was unaware of the existence of the RSS, he promised to learn more about the issue. In addition to an info packet, I left him with a copy of my book Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers, which serves a primer — especially for non-South Asian audiences — on the issue of the RSS-BJP and its Hindu nationalist agenda.
Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington and Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers as well as co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at PieterFriedrich.net.