California Congressman Ro Khanna’s recent tweet in reply to an article on Hindutva has divided the Indian-American community. While many Hindu-American’s reject Khanna’s call, there are a few progressives and anti-Hindutva activists who are lauding and supporting him.
On Aug. 29 Khanna tweeted: “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. That is the vision of India my grandfather, Amarnath Vidyalankar fought for.”
Khanna was replying to an Aug. 1 article published in Caravan by Pieter Friedrich which analyzed the history of Hindutva in the U.S. and its political allies.
It mentioned Hawaii Congresswoman and 2020 presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Titled “All in the Family: The American Sangh’s Affair With Tulsi Gabbard,” the story documented how Gabbard’s early congressional career was heavily financed by leaders and members in American affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
OFBJP president Krishna Reddy Anugula told India Abroad that in 1996, the Supreme Court of India defined Hindutva as “a way of life.” Meaning it doesn't subscribe to any ideology or discrimination, Reddy said. He also noted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on the need for development for all.
Thus Reddy said that with all this context, it would seem that “Congressman Khanna misunderstood the meaning of Hindutva,” adding that “he should stop maligning the term and educate himself.”
According to news reports, members of the OFBJP members are also urging Khanna to withdraw from the Pakistan congressional caucus.
The Hindu American Foundation said they were in touch with Khanna’s office but did not comment on the tweet. Last month, the group, in response to Friedrich’s article, sent a letter to the editor of Caravan expressing concerns about the article on the political activity of Hindu Americans.
Several BJP supporters took to social media to decry Khanna’s tweet.
Vishwanath Kolhe, an Indian resident, who spends a few months with his son in California’s Bay Area, wrote: “Mr R.O. Khanna seems to be away from India for generations, & knows nothing about India, or Hindutva.
“Indian Constitution ensures equality to all. Hindutva is just a way of life, & faith of the majority of Indians. Moreover, the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom for all religions.
“The senator should worry about equality for all Americans.”
Sanjana Prabhakar, a senior mortgage loan officer at General Mortgage Capital Corp in San Francisco wrote on Khanna’s Facebook page.
“I am one of your supporters,” she wrote. “We have donated in fund raising events. You should remove #reject hindutva immediately. You are hurting sentiments of many many Hindus who helped you in win election.”
But at the same time, there were several who welcomed Khanna’s stand.
Amar Shergill, an attorney, executive board member of the California Democratic Party (CDP) and chair of the CDP Progressive Caucus, in an op-ed in San Jose Inside warned that despite the mixed reaction to Khanna’s tweet, the full measure of his words is yet to be felt.
“In the coming months, we will see a debate within the South Asian American community and the Democratic Party regarding the morality of Hindutva and how the party can reach consensus given the political crisis in India,” he wrote.
“Khanna’s statement goes to the heart of this debate by laying bare the obvious hypocrisy of Hindutva’s American supporters.” He continued that “Khanna’s statement breaks new ground for South Asians and for all in the progressive movement. He is joining progressive South Asian Americans and our allies around the world in standing against oppression. His rejection of Hindutva encourages us all to embrace the principles of fundamental human rights that bind us together as Americans.”
Arvin Valmuci of Organization for Minorities of India, in a press release, lauded Khanna’s courage in denouncing Hindutva. “As recent documentation published by Caravan shows, the RSS is not only involved in pogroms and massacres against Christians, Dalits, Muslims, and Sikhs in India, but it is also trying to cultivate politicians in America,” the press release said.
Valmuci also applauded Illinois State Senator Ram Villavalam for taking a similar stand last year against supremacy. “We hope to see words translated into action,” he said.
According to the OMI press release, Villavalam, in 2018 said: “I do not support any group and/or an event arranged or led by organizations that intimidate minorities, incite discrimination and violence, commit acts of terror based on race or ethnic background, promote hate speech, and/or believe in faith based nationalism.
“As a Hindu-American, I stand with my brothers and sisters in the Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Sikh, and other religious and ethnic minority communities against hate, discrimination, and persecution.”
Similarly, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, also welcomed Khanna’s stand on Hindutva.
“We are inspired to see Congressman Ro Khanna (CA-17) speaking out for human rights and pluralism as a Hindu,” the organization said on its Facebook page.
“As Hindus who believe in the values of ekatva (oneness), ahimsa (nonviolence), and seva (selfless service), it is our dharma (duty) to oppose the extremist ideology of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. We hope to see other Hindu-American elected officials standing for justice and human rights, grounded in the progressive and pluralistic values of our faith. This is progressive Hindu-American leadership in action.”