A group of Indian Americans Oct. 3 gathered outside a town hall meeting in Cupertino, Calif., convened by Rep. Ro Khanna, protesting his membership on the Pakistani American Congressional Caucus.
Khanna, an Indian American Democrat who represents portions of the Silicon Valley and Fremont, Calif, joined the PACC in July. He is also a member of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. In recent months, the congressman has been dogged by some Indian American community members for his PACC membership and for an Aug. 29 tweet in which he stated his opposition to Hindutva. (See earlier story in India-West here: https://bit.ly/2Vvc26T)
“It is the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to reject Hindutva and speak for the rights of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians. That is the vision of India my grandfather Amarnath Vidyalankar fought for,” wrote Khanna on Twitter.
“I support a pluralistic vision of peace,” Khanna told India-West, noting that the Indian American community he represents largely support his vision.
“As an American member of Congress, I want to promote peace in the region,” he said.
Khanna’s grandfather was honored in Congress Oct. 2 by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during her recognition on the House floor of the 150th birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.
“Amarnath Vidyalankar was a champion for freedom who spent years in prison alongside Gandhi in the quest for Indian independence,” said Pelosi, noting Khanna’s “direct connection” to Gandhi.
Pelosi’s speech lauding Indian Americans’ many contributions to the U.S. can be watched here in its entirety.
Chinmoy Roy, a Khanna supporter who attended the Oct. 3 town hall meeting, told India-West that about 25 people stood outside, bearing placards reading: “Ro Khanna, Stand with Gandhi. Do not mix with bigots.”
“They told me they belong to the HSS — Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh — and that Ro is against Hinduism. I explained to them that Ro is not against Hinduism, but does support secularism,” said Roy, adding that Khanna wants to ensure that Pakistan and India do not go to war.
Mahesh Kalla, national spokesman for the HSS US, told India-West that the HSS was not involved in the protest against Khanna. “The HSS had absolutely nothing to do with the protest. We are bi-partisan and do not indulge in political activity of any sort.”
Kalla noted that the HSS US is a religious organization, whose 501 (c) 3 non-profit status prohibits engaging in political activity. He, moreover, stated that the Cupertino, Calif., chapter of the HSS had not organized the protest.
Cupertino resident Mahesh Lalwani told India-West he attended the town hall meeting with the intent to ask Khanna why he had joined the PACC. The Indian American businessman alleged that Khanna’s staffers initially told him he could not ask the question, but then relented and said he could ask it if no one else before him asked a similar question.
Another attendee asked the question, and Khanna answered, but not in a manner that Lalwani believed to be sufficient.
“We want him to step down from the PACC,” stated Lalwani, alleging that Khanna was being used by the Pakistani media who are claiming he is “on Pakistan’s side,” during a time when friction between the two countries has dramatically escalated after the Modi government Aug. 5 revoked Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which had given Kashmir special autonomous status post-Independence.
“I have the utmost respect for my Muslim and Sikh brothers and sisters, but Hindus in their own land have not been respected,” said Lalwani, adding that he equates Hinduism with Hindutva. Khanna’s tweet rejecting Hindutva suggests his rejection of Hindus and Hinduism, he said.
“Shame on you Mr. Khanna. You have betrayed the trust of Indian American community and we refuse to support you from now on,” wrote Lalwani in a Facebook post.
Two petitions are making the rounds on social media: one — https://bit.ly/2npROig — thanks Khanna for rejecting Hindutva.
“Khanna should be applauded for speaking out against the religious nationalist political ideology of Hindutva which undergirds the fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary and Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Both the RSS and the BJP have repeatedly been implicated in acts of mass violence against minorities, as well as targeted violence against Hindus,” reads the petition, which had amassed 239 signatures as of press time Oct. 7.
The other change.org petition, titled “Congressman Ro Khanna: Stop promoting racist anti-Indian, anti-Hindu bigots” — https://bit.ly/35ibNjW — asks Khanna to “publicly apologize for promoting and endorsing anti-India, anti-Hindu racists and extremist groups who have been abusing our children.”