WASHINGTON, D.C.— Former tech entrepreneur Ritesh Tandon, 46, who is president of the Uttar Pradesh Mandal of America (UPMA) and a stalwart of the Hindu temple in Fremont, California, who has declared his intent to challenge Democratic incumbent Ro Khanna in California’s District 17 on the Republican ticket in 2020, has said he was motivated to run by Khanna’s alleged anti-Hindutva comments and his refusal to withdraw from the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.
In an interview with India Abroad, Tandon however asserted that it’s not a “protest run” against Khanna but that “I want to make a change in this country.”
Tandon acknowledged that “(Dr.) Romesh Japra (a community activist in Fremont, Calif.) is my top-notch supporter and then we have many more top-notch supporters like Kanderao (Kand), many big supporters from AIA (Association of Indian Americans), who are working parallel with Japraji’s FOG (Festival of the Globe) are also my supporters. So, a lot of people are supporting me.”
An avowed Trumpite, he said, he had declared his candidacy at Japra’s residence on Oct. 4, and his decision to run as a Republican was because “I see President Trump is helping our country more than any of the Democrats, and I see Trump is helping India is my key point and that’s why I want to go and work with President Trump to help my country.”
Asked how he expected to defeat Khanna in a largely Democratic and diverse district where the incumbent enjoys a nearly 80 percent popularity, Tandon said, “I can tell you, even though Republicans are only 15 percent in the District, as a Republican, I will have all the support from the Chinese, Latinos, Indian community, because this guy (Khanna) has not done anything for anyone—even for the Sikh community.”
“And I will convert the Democrats to Republicans, if required,” he added, and went on to reiterate that “what he (Khanna) has done for the people—nothing. He has no focus on the local constituents and so many are homeless and there are so many other issues, and our Congressman is fighting for the vice president post and helping (Senator) Bernie Sanders (a Democratic presidential candidate).”
Khanna is one of Sanders’ staunch surrogates and was the first member of Congress from a state outside of the candidate’s to jump on Bernie Sanders’ presidential bandwagon with a full-throated endorsement and was also appointed a national co-chair of the 77-year-old candidate’ 2020 presidential campaign on Feb. 21.
Tandon claimed that becoming Sanders’ running mate if he’s elected President “is what I think is Ro Khanna’s ambition and he has completely ignored our local people—everyone actually. He has betrayed everyone.”
“There are so many issues like country quotas (for green card applicants from India), medical issues and so many other things and I can only fight for them when I am inside the House (of Representatives).”
And he continued to assert that “people are so unhappy with him right now, and I think he has taken for granted that he has no one who can beat him and that kind of thing. And, so, it’s time to wake up everyone and let them know what your Congressman is doing.”
Asked how he is going to raise the millions of dollars to run a viable campaign against Khanna, Tandon said, “I can tell you in the last 20 years, I have raised over $40 million for my non-profit organization.”
“So, I will go back to the same people and ask them for money. I did it before and I will do it again. I have big donors, wealthy donors, and then high profile people and so, I have huge support on the back end and that’s why I decided I can take over this town.”
Tandon said that “for the last 20 years, I am working for our country and I have built 12 hospitals for the poor people back in India, where we do 150,000 free surgeries.”
“I have also built 10 day-care centers for the poor underprivileged kids where 350 students age from 3 years to 7 years come there,” he said.
Tandon said he has carried out his philanthropy through his UPMA, “where we fund the education of poor kids and provide daycare,” and through the Sankara Eye Foundation, “where I am part of the executive committee and help to build hospitals.”
He said, if elected, he also wanted “to help the Spanish community in the Bay Area –they are very poor people in the Bay Area and I also do Indo-Japanese events, so basically helping the Japanese community also.”
Tandon, said, he had immigrated to the U.S. at age 28 to pursue graduate studies and received a master’s degree in computer engineering and a master’s in business administration, both from Santa Clara University, where he met his future wife Zurica Dhar, “a Kashmiri Hindu Pandit who was also doing her computer engineering degree.”
Tandon denied that he was recruited by and being promoted by the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). “It was me who decided on my own. HSS never came into the picture, but I had a lot of support from everyone and they made me feel stronger that I should go for it.”
He also denied that he was among the protestors during Khanna’s Gandhi Jayanti event and town hall on Oct. 3 in Cupertino. “I was not there,” he said.
Tandon also said he could match Khanna’s proud boast of his grandfather Amaranth Vidyalankar who fought for India’s independence alongside Mahatma Gandhi and was also imprisoned with Gandhi, with a boast of his own that ‘my grandfather, Kanhaiyalal Tandon, was a freedom fighter, and my father was a strong RSS person.”
“They fought for our country, the independence of our country,” he said.