WASHINGTON, D.C.—There was much angst in the community that only U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D.-Ill.), was the sole member of the four-member ‘Samosa Caucus’ of Indian Americans in the U.S. Congress, who showed up for the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ extravaganza in Houston on Sept. 22.
While community leaders seemingly were resigned to the fact that progressive members of Congress, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D.-Wash.) and Ro Khanna (D.Calif.), were unlikely to show up because of the criticism of the “humanitarian crisis” in Kashmir and Hindutva policies respectively, there was much disappointment that three-term Congressman Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), now a ranking member of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, had given the mega event a miss.
The only other elected official to attend was Ohio Republican state House Representative Niraj Antani—a rising star in GOP circles, who is making a bid for the state Senate in 2020.
Several sources told India Abroad Krishnamoorthi was “now being attacked, trolled and pilloried with letters, phone-calls, texts, etc.,” and was “feeling abandoned.”
One source told India Abroad that “all of the influential people in the community should know that Raja was the only one who stood with us and now look at what’s happening to him.”
Apparently with Jayapal and Khanna going public with their concern over Kashmir and Hindutva, it was all but clear that they would not attend and it was to be expected, but this had “put a lot of pressure on Raja.”
Compounding all of this was that Rep. Brad Sherman (D.-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, which has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to South Asian affairs, and is now the Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans had also failed to show up.
The sources said that this was particularly galling for the likes of Krishnamoorthi because Sherman had just about a week before the mega event, been circulating a letter to his Congressional colleagues urging them to attend the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event.
They were also peeved that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D.-Hawaii), the first Hindu American elected to the U.S. Congress and a strong supporter and friend of Modi had also “not had the courtesy” to attend although “she has raised millions of dollars from the Hindu American community.”
Although Gabbard, also a Democratic presidential candidate, had sent her regrets that she couldn’t attend because of a previously scheduled fund-raising event, and had also issued a statement welcoming Modi, the sources were unconvinced that she couldn’t have attended the event “if she really wanted to.”
But on the eve of the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event, India’s Ambassador to the U.S., Harsh Vardhan Shringla, told India Abroad in an exclusive interview that “she (Gabbard) has a fundraiser exactly coinciding with this (event), which was scheduled much before and she can’t avoid that.”
“Otherwise, she’s a strong supporter of India-U.S. relations and a close friend and staunch supporter of prime minister,” Shringla said, confirming at the time that the rumors that Gabbard would not attend.
Also, on Sept. 19, on the eve of Modi’s arrival in the U.S., Gabbard issued a statement, extending a warm welcome to him, saying, “I’m very happy to see that Howdy Modi is bringing together Indian Americans and Hindu Americans from across our country, including many of my colleagues in the U.S. Congress.
Then on Sept. 27, called on Modi in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly sessions the Prime Minister was attending and according to her office, “they had a discussion on a wide range of issues, highlighting the importance of the long-standing relationship the United States shares with India.”
Gabbard also acknowledged, “We discussed the situation in Kashmir, civil rights, empowering women and addressing poverty, as well as the concern about escalating tensions with Iran,” but did not elaborate on what her discussions with Modi on Kashmir entailed.
Dr. Bharat Barai of Chicago, a longtime Modi friend and confidante and the point man for the Madison Square Garden event five years ago, commenting on the absence of Bera, Jayapal, Khanna and Gabbard, he said, “It is not clear if they were pressured by some groups or they did not feel comfortable in this vastly pro Modi crowd.”
“They have been severely criticized on social media and may have face angry onslaught from people who had voted and contributed for them,” he added, and predicted, “Their relationship with Indian American community will be very strained.”
Barai said that “it was mentioned that these four had never spoken out against severe violations of human rights in Pakistan, China, and Syria,” and argued that “they should have made efforts to talk with their Indian American voters and contributors to learn about Kashmir and then make their statements.”
Narender Reddy of Atlanta, Ga., a longtime Republican Party stalwart and fund-raiser, while bemoaning the fact that among the four Indian American members of the U.S. Congress only Krishnamoorthi was in attendance, argued that “I believe that Ro Khanna may have decided to skip the event as he feared the ire of Indian Americans because of his recent joining in Pakistani Caucus in Congress.”
“Pramila Jayapal may have skipped the event because she has been critical of Modi's administration because she perceives human right violations in Kashmir and may not have wanted to be seen with Prime Minister Modi, who is projected by liberal press as a Hindu-centric leader.”
But Reddy excused Gabbard, saying that “she had already issued a press release stating that due to a prescheduled fund raising event to help her run for the presidency, she would not be able to attend the Howdy-Modi event and had condemned the rumors that she is not happy with the Modi administration.”
“To the contrary, she said in her media advisory, that she will be looking
forward to meeting with Modi soon to discuss many issues and policies with him,” he said.