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Meet US politician Ro Khanna, member of Congressional Pakistani Caucus, trying to interfere in India’s internal politics

The US House Representative gave the impression that Hindutva promotes inequality and discrimination against other religions.

On Friday (March 24), US House Representative Ro Khanna stirred the hornet’s nest by making unsolicited remarks about the internal political affairs of India. The development comes after Congress scion Rahul Gandhi was disqualified from Lok Sabha following his conviction in a criminal defamation case.

In a tweet (archive), he claimed, “The expulsion of Rahul Gandhi from parliament is a deep betrayal of Gandhian philosophy and India’s deepest values.”

The US politician further added, “This is not what my grandfather sacrificed years in jail for. Narendra Modi, you have the power to reverse this decision for the sake of Indian democracy.”

Ro Khanna was reacting to an article by The New York Times, which shrewdly insinuated that the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi was somehow due to his opposition to PM Narendra Modi.

Although he is of Indian origin by lineage, Khanna was born in Philadelphia city of Pennsylvania. He has been actively involved in US politics as a Democratic Party leader since 2016. As such, his interference in India’s internal affairs without fully understanding the political context has drawn the ire of Indians.

This is not the first time he has made unsolicited comments on internal affairs in India, he has done in earlier also.

Ro Khanna presented a distorted version of Hindutva, made passing remarks about farm laws

In August 2019, Ro Khanna courted controversy for presenting a distorted version of Hindutva to his American followers.

He had tweeted (archive), “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.”

In that way, the US House Representative gave the impression that Hindutva promotes inequality and discrimination against other religions. In essence, Hindutava (as defined by Veer Savarkar [pdf]) is an inclusive term that represents everything ‘Indic’.

He argued that the residents of India are united by their common culture, race and affinity for the nation where they reside. Khanna’s demonisation of Hindutva has added to the misinterpretation of the Indic concept.

During the anti-farm law agitation in India in 2020, Ro Khanna tweeted (archive), “India & the US share a rich tradition of democracy & peaceful protests. Farmworkers are the backbone of both our nations & must have their voices heard.”

“I hope there’s a peaceful and fair solution so they can provide for their families. I am encouraged by the ongoing dialogue,” he further added.

Ro Khanna joined Congressional Pakistan Caucus in 2019

In August 2019, Ro Khanna joined the Pakistan Congressional Caucus, becoming the first Indian-American to do so. This move had raised eyebrows in the Indian-American community, while he was welcomed by the Pakistanis, including Pakistan’s ambassador to the US.

Notably, Ro Khann is also a member of the India Caucus in the Congress and is currently the Vice-Chair of the same. He is set to become the next chair of the Congressional Caucus on India.

In September 2019, around 230 Indian-American organisations in the US wrote a letter to Ro Khanna, urging him to withdraw from the Congressional Pakistan Caucus.

“Membership in (the Congressional Pakistan) Caucus is contrary to both American principles and our geostrategic interests in the Indian Subcontinent and the broader South Asian region,” the letter read. It also raised concerns about Ro Khanna’s social media interaction with an anti-Hindu activist, Pieter Friedrich.

“We further urge you to write directly to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and meet with (Pakistan) Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan to address Pakistan’s ongoing use of terrorism to destabilise the region and its rampant and severe human rights violations,” the letter emphasised.

However, Ro Khanna refused to withdraw from the Congressional Pakistan Caucus. “I think it all stems from a naivete that they don’t understand politics. But it is really irrelevant in my district and that’s where my first priority is,” he defended his decision.

“I certainly will never bow my convictions because of a special interest lobby…I have no tolerance for right-wing nationalists who are affiliated with Donald Trump…They are maybe 2 to 3 per cent in an echo chamber in this district…But they will see that our values, our district, is pluralistic.” Khanna had said.

Association with Equality Labs

Equality Labs, which is known for anti-Hindu propaganda, has worked with Congressman Ro Khanna to introduce a resolution in celebration of the 129th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar.

In a press statement, he said, “Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was a pioneer in the movement to make India a free, fair, and just society for everyone in it.”

He further stated, “He mobilized a generation to push back against discrimination and to instead celebrate equality, human rights, and universal tolerance. Today, we stand at a moment in world history when we could all use more of that compassionate spirit.”

“I’m proud to work with Equality Labs and South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) to make this landmark resolution a reality,” Ro Khanna added.

The controversial past of Ro Khanna’s grandfather

Ro Khanna, a supposed champion of free speech and civil liberties, had been in awe of his grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar, who was part of the ruling Indira Gandhi government during the Emergency (1975-1977).

The US House Representative had expressed deep admiration for his grandfather on a number of occasions. In October 2019, he said, “My grandfather, or Nana Ji, as we called him, was a family legend.”

He further claimed, “Amarnath Vidyalankar spent his life fighting for India’s independence, which included spending four years in prison in Mahatma Gandhi’s movement. I still remember the conversations we had together, many of them while playing chess.”

“These conversations, and the stories that lived on after his passing left a lasting impression on me,” Khanna emphasised. However, he forgot to add that Amarnath Vidyalankar was part of the Congress government that suppressed freedom of speech and expression.

According to political analyst Abhijit Iyer Mitra, Khanna’s grandfather not only stood by Indira Gandhi but allegedly supported “the worst excess of that period: mass jailings, torture & forced sterilisation.” Mitra accused Amarnath Vidyalankar of ensuring the expulsion of Subramanian Swamy from the Indian Parliament.

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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