Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna has been instrumental in inviting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to address the joint session of US Congress on June 22, 2023. This came as a surprise to many of his constituents who voted for him after he declared in 2019: “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.”
|L to R: Narendra Modi, JOe Biden, Ro Khanna|
What caused this change of heart? Is it the donation of $110,000 to his campaign by Hindu Nationalist donors in the United States, as reported by The Nation? Fellow Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal has also supported Modi's invitation. She will be among members of Congress who will escort Modi to the podium. Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal are both supposedly "liberal" Democrats.
While Khanna says that he “strongly opposes any form of caste discrimination”, he has not endorsed California SB 403, a bill sponsored by Senator Aisha Wahab and supported by Dalit activist Thenmozhi Soundararajan, that outlaws caste discrimination in the state.
Modi’s US visit comes at a time of rising state persecution of religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians. Modi's BJP-affiliated politicians have called for genocide against Indian Muslims, attacked mosques and churches, and demolished homes, according to The Nation. The Biden administration has been silent on these issues, choosing instead to try and strengthen the US-India relationship and deepen the ties between the countries’ military and technology sectors. For the last four years, the Biden Administration has ignored the USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) recommendation to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern” and impose strategic sanctions on Indian government officials and agencies involved in religious freedom violations.
On the eve of Prime Minister Modi's visit to Washington, the USCIRF has urged President Biden to discuss with him its concerns about the lack of religious freedom in India. “With India’s upcoming state visit, the Biden administration has a unique opportunity to explicitly incorporate religious freedom concerns into the two countries’ bilateral relationship,” said USCIRF Commissioner David Curry. “It is vital the U.S. government acknowledge the Indian government’s perpetration and toleration of particularly severe violations of religious freedom against its own population and urge the government to uphold its human rights obligations.”
Instead of condemning India for allowing the oppression of minorities and denying media freedom, US officials have applauded the Modi government. US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has described Modi as “unbelievable, visionary” and “the most popular world leader.” Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, has praised press freedom in India: “You have India as a democracy in part because you have a free press that really works.” This is in sharp contrast with the findings of the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders 2023 World Press Freedom Index, which has ranked India 161, out of 180 countries due to its crackdown on the press. India's neighbor Pakistan ranks 150, 11 places above India, on this Index.
Khanna's recent about-face is seen as a betrayal by many of his constituents who supported him because of his rejection of Hindutva. South Asian social justice activists Anu Mandavilli, Deepa Iyer, Karthikeyan Shanmughan and others have strongly criticized Khanna.
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