On 22nd Feb, a video featuring derogatory anti-Modi chants aimed towards prominent Indian-American Dr Romesh Japra caught attention on social media. This video features chants in Punjabi by a sizeable mob of protestors equating Dr Japra to a dog, directly outside Dr Japra’s house in Fremont, California. This ‘counter-protest’ is part of a backlash against Dr Japra for organizing a car rally in support of the 2020 Indian laws.
Dr Romesh Japra is a very prominent figure in the Indian-American community of California, especially Fremont. Dr Japra is an eminent Cardiologist with an MBBS degree from AIIMS, Delhi before moving to the USA in 1973. Beyond the field of medicine, Dr Japra is the founder and convener of the Festival of Globe, an annual multi-ethnic cultural event featuring film, visual, performing and folk arts located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years, this event has featured a multitude of Bollywood celebrities including Vivek Oberoi, Gulshan Grover, Randeep Hooda etc.
In recent years, Dr Japra has gravitated towards pushing pro-India and pro-Hindu politics in California in response to the perceived anti-India rhetoric and actions of the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party, especially Rep. Ro Khanna, the U.S. Congressman for the 17th Congressional District, the district Dr Japra resides in. Rep. Ro Khanna is a member of the Pakistani Congressional Caucus. In the 2020 U.S. election, Dr Japra supported an Indian-American Republican challenger against Rep. Khanna, however, Khanna was able to retain his seat in the historically super-majority Democrat seat.
Meet Dr Romesh Japra
Dr Romesh Japra was born in Phagwara, Punjab in 1950 in a Hindu family. Raised in a village in the Phagwara Tehsil, Dr Japra successfully completed his MBBS degree at AIIMS, Delhi and moved to the US in 1973. After that, Dr Japra established his highly successful medical practice as a Cardiologist. Moreover, Dr Japra was also highly active in the affairs of the Indian community in USA. In 1983, he was a co-founder of the Fremont Hindu Temple and Cultural Center, one of the first, if not the first, Hindu temples established in Fremont, California.
“Being a small immigrant community in those days we needed a place to worship and socialise. We had to rent time from churches for the same. So we took this Church and turned it into a Hindu Temple.” Dr Japra was quoted as saying. Dr Japra has also been the Chairman of the Federation of Indo-Americans of Northern California, a Fremont based umbrella organization that consists of over 40 Indian-American member organizations.
The Federation of Indo-Americans of Northern California, under the stewardship of Dr Romesh Japra, launched the annual Festival of India in 1993 on the occasion of the Indian Independence Day. The event, which features a Grand Parade was led by then Bollywood star Asha Parekh in 1993, followed by Sushmita Sen the next year. Ever since then, the Festival of India has been one of the most premier Indian cultural events in the San Francisco Bay Area, also popularly called Silicon Valley. The Festival of India has featured prominent Bollywood celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Dharmendra, Ayushmaan Khurana over the years.
In recent years, the Festival of India has evolved into the Festival of Globe, with Chinese and Hispanic groups also showcasing their respective cultures. The cultural festival has an attendance of approximately 150,000 to 200,000 people, making it a highly productive festival with an explicit aim to showcase and highlight Indian culture.
Involvement in Pro-Indian politics
On August 29, 2019, U.S. Congressman Rep. Ro Khanna replied to a tweet from accused Khalistani asset Pieter Friedrich. The tweet, which Rep. Khanna replies to, is an article by Pieter Friedrich in the Caravan Magazine which baselessly accuses Anti-War Progressive Hindu politician Tulsi Gabbard of being financially aided by the RSS in exchange for certain favors. In his reply Rep. Ro Khanna tweets, “Important article. 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.”
OpIndia had recently covered Pieter Friedrich’s and OFMI’s campaign to target pro-India and Hindu politicians and its links with Khalistani and ISI elements. In the middle of this coordinated smear campaign against a progressive Hindu politician like Tulsi Gabbard, Rep. Ro Khanna, another progressive Hindu politician threw Tulsi Gabbard under the bus, commended Pieter Friedrich’s article, and called for the rejection of Hindutva. Naturally, this led to a backlash against Khanna amongst the Indian Hindu community residing in Fremont and the Indian-American Hindu community in general.
In October 2019, a group of Indian Americans gathered outside an elementary school which was the venue of a town hall meeting featuring Rep. Ro Khanna. They held signs saying “Ro: Stand with the community, not with racists” and ““Ro: Stand for Equality, Stand Against Hinduphobia” in order to protest Ro Khanna’s. Ro Khanna also came under fire from over 230 Indian-American organization which collectively signed a letter to Rep. Khanna, condemning his endorsement of Pieter Friedrich who the letter refers to as a ‘fringe and extremist Anti-Hindu activist’. Ironically, the town hall was held to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th Birth Anniversary. Mahatma Gandhi has long been a target of Pieter Friedrich and OFMI, with baseless allegations of Nazism and Pedophilia against the Mahatma promoted by them.
In the fallout of all this, Dr Romesh Japra saw the need for a pro-Hindu and pro-India political action committee (PAC). This led to the formation of Americans for Hindus, a new PAC in order to push for pro-India policies in reaction to “Anti India and Anti-Hindu statements and actions by members of the Progressive Caucus (“PC”) of the Democratic party that have aggrieved a large swath of the Hindu-American community”. This PAC was formed in December 2019 and commenced operations in early 2020.
By October 2020, the Americans for Hindus PAC raised around $225,000. The PAC endorsed 14 candidates for Congressional races across the USA in the 2020 election cycle including a Republican challenger for Rep. Ro Khanna. The Indian-American Republican challenger to Khanna, Ritesh Tandon was a personal friend of Dr Japra and relied highly on Dr Japra’s influential support. However, the lack of campaigning due to the pandemic, meant that Rep. Khanna would retain his historically Democrat district.
In many ways, Dr. Romesh Japra is a pioneer for Indian American and Hindu American communities. A highly successful Cardiologist, he has also been a pillar of the Indian diaspora in Fremont, organizing cultural events in order to promote Indian culture in the West and also to inculcate it within children in the Indian diaspora. Dr. Japra is also a pioneer for utilizing his resources towards actually using the American political system for the benefit of India and Indians worldwide. The attack on Dr Japra seems to be a result of his efforts to bring pro-India narrative into American politics and an organised effort by the highly active pro-Khalistani forces in North America to threaten the pro-India voices.