Indian-Americans With RSS Links Don’t Make It to Biden’s First Cut

Sonal Shah and Amit Jani worked with the Biden campaign, but have not been nominated to any positions yet.

New Delhi: The Joe Biden administration has so far not named two Indian-Americans who had worked for the Democratic campaign for the US presidential elections, allegedly due to their “RSS-BJP links”, according to a report by the Tribune.

While 20 Indian-Americans have been appointed to the Biden administration, two members of the Democratic party – Sonal Shah, an Obama administration staffer, and Amit Jani, who was part of the Biden campaign team – “have so far been excluded”, the report said.

However, Democratic party sources told The Wire that it was “still really, really early” to claim that Shah and Jani have been kept out of the administration with appointments still being revealed daily.

Their exclusion comes after a coalition of 19 Indian-American organisations had sent a letter to Biden in December 2020, saying “many South Asian-Americans individuals with ties to far-right Hindu organizations in India are affiliated with the Democratic party”. The groups said the Biden administration should have ‘no tolerance’ for such persons.

The letter specifically mentioned Shah and Jani, describing them as individuals “who received funding from or made public statements in support of Hindu supremacist groups”.

Further, the extrapolation that the letter is the reason behind the two persons not being named in the administration yet may not be correct, as per the Democratic source. “I don’t think they are out. I just think they haven’t been given spots yet… if they even want a spot”.

Shah was one of six Indian-Americans who served on the Biden-Sanders “unity task force”. Her father was the president of the US branch of Overseas Friends of BJP and is the founder of RSS-run Ekal Vidyalaya. She was also criticised for raising funds for victims of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake victims on behalf of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America.

Jani was named as the Biden campaign’s ‘Muslim Outreach’ coordinator, a decision that came under fire when his family’s links to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders emerged.

Last March, following the reports of Jani’s family connections with Modi, Khizr Khan, who is known for his speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention, backed Jani and dismissed all the allegations. “These allegations have been made just to create nuisance and discord,” Khan told a diaspora newspaper, India West. Khan, an American of Pakistani origin, had lost his US army captain in Iraq in 2004.

In July 2019, Shah joined the presidential campaign of South Bend mayor and Biden’s nominee for transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg.

In a response to The Intercept, a Buttigieg spokesperson had referred to her statement when she was on Barack Obama’s transition team that she “would not have associated with VHP of America” if she could have known the role its Indian counterpart would have in the Gujarat riots. “My personal politics has nothing in common with views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organisation. I’ve never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so,” she had said in 2008.

Among the Indian-Americans who have made it to the 46th US president’s administration are Vivek Murthy, Neera Tanden, Uzra Zeya and Samira Fazili.

Perhaps encouraged by Biden’s statements on Kashmir and the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, secular Indian-American organisations have lobbied hard to keep people who “advance the ideology and political interests of violent, extremist Hindu nationalist groups in India” out of his administration.

The letter written by the 19 organisations describes such people as ‘foreign agents’ of the RSS and BJP.  Thewse people “often claim to be anti-Trump, citing their minority status and the values of the Democratic party. But in India, they stand for the equivalent of Trumpism: Hindu supremacy,” the letter said.

“Indeed, they practice a peculiar form of identity politics, presenting themselves as spokespeople of the ethnic Hindu minority in the United States, while endorsing the worst forms of Hindu majoritarianism in India. They often use the pretense of fighting American racism, and espouse multiculturalism in the US, but perpetuate a racism of their own in India,” it added.

Anyone who has received funding from or makes public statements in support of the BJP, RSS are “entirely complicit” in the rise of “authoritarianism and ethnonationalist violence in India”, the letter said.

“We urge that you thoroughly screen all individuals offering advice to, lobbying, vying for a position within, or in any way engaging with your administration. Specifically, there should be no tolerance for any individuals who uphold any form of supremacist belief, including in Hindu supremacy, both in India and the US. As a broad coalition representing the interests of the Indian-American, we demand to be involved in this screening process,” it said.