Thursday, January 30, 2014

India's Corrupt, Dysfunctional Politics Comes To California


The first time I got to India, in 1969, I went the hard way-- overland in a VW van from Europe. What a trip, and I stayed in India, Nepal, Ceylon and Pakistan for two years. Over the years, I've been back many times, most recently over the Christmas holidays in 2012. And in the last decade, every time I went, there was some kind of election involving a fascist Indian politician, Narendra Modi, head of India's far right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which, in the right-wing constellation, is as more akin to the Nazi Party than the Republican Party. Imagine Paul Ryan's economic agenda meets genocide. I've wound up blogging about Modi and the BJP from India several times and I always get a lot of animated responses from Indian-Americans on the right of the political spectrum who tell me Modi may be best known internationally for as an anti-Muslim terrorist-- who facilitated (to put it mildly)-- the slaughter of at least a thousand Muslims in 2002, but that they admire him for his economic policies. Remember how fascists excused Hitler;s and Mussolini's quirky excesses? They made the trains run on time. (Never mind what was in the trains.) Modi, they claim, has been very good for Gujarat's economy. Maybe-- for the rich, but certainly not for the millions of poor people in the state. According to wikipedia, while Modi has been boasting of an economic miracle as Chief Minister, Gujarat has been the "13th in India for poverty, 21st for education and 44.7% percent of children under five are underweight and 23% are undernourished putting the state in the 'alarming' category on the Hunger Index… Political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot states that the development in Gujarat has been limited to the urban middle class, whereas rural dwellers and lower castes have become increasingly marginalised. He cites the fact that Gujarat ranks 21st among the 28 Indian states in terms of its Human Development Index, due to the lack of development in rural Gujarat. He states under Modi the number of families living below the poverty line has increased, and that particularly rural adivasi and dalits have become increasingly marginalised."

Because of his role in the massacres of Muslims, Modi has been banned from traveling to the E.U. and the U.S. And here's where the Modi story starts to intersect with American politics. Meet Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, Chicago "businessman" and Modi's man in America. He's behind a SuperPAC working for one thing: rehabilitating Modi in America. He brought 3 shady Republican congressmembers-- Aaron Schock, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Cynthia Lummis-- to India to meet Modi, complements of his National Indian American Public Policy Institute in Chicago. A few months ago Kumar got slapped down by Republicans in Washington he had bribed when he used their names in a Modi event without their permission. He doesn't understand that bribing congressmen isn't the same thing as owning them.
The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG) has successfully exposed that Narendra Modi’s purported event on "Capitol Hill" as a fraud and an exercise in illegal and criminal misuse of US Government symbols. After five days of phone calls, letters, document verification and hundreds of emails between CAG activists and Congressional staffers, several members of the House Republican Conference whose names had been used to endorse the Modi event have washed their hands off the event. First reports in the media also suggest that the congresspersons were unaware that their names or the Congressional seal were being used to promote the Modi event and that the fraud had been enacted by a an organization called National Indian American Public Policy Institute (NIAPPI) and one Mr. Shalabh Kumar, a person with a checkered history of ethics violations.

CAG has learned that the office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has issued a "Cease and Desist" order to Mr. Shalabh ’Shalli’ Kumar and NIAPPI, who are organizers of the event outside Capitol Hill, where Modi is expected to appear via satellite video on November 19, 2013.

The promotional material for the event has illegally used the seal of the House of Representatives as well as names and pictures of the top Republican Leadership without their consent. It purports to have the support and endorsement of the House Republican Conference, a top Republican body chaired by Rep. Cathy Rodgers.

The "Cease and Desist" Notice seeks immediate cessation of all activities to promote the Modi broadcast in the name of Congresswoman Rodgers and the House Republican Conference. Even as the office of Rep. Rodgers issued the "Cease and Desist", other Republicans namely Congressman Sessions moved swiftly to put a distance between themselves and the Modi broadcast. In a statement issued by Congressman Sessions received by CAG via email, Congressman Sessions stated clearly:
"It has come to my attention that the National Indian American Public Policy Institute (NIAPPI) recently used my name and image on an invitation to an event that it is hosting in Washington, DC, on November 19. At no point in time did I agree to attend this event, nor did I approve of the use of my name or image on this invitation. Further, I did not see the invitation until it had been distributed publicly. Had I known that my name and image were on this invitation before it was distributed, I would have requested that they both be removed. Additionally, I have contacted NIAPPI to request that they remove my name and image from this invitation and that they explicitly ask my approval before using my name or image in any of their materials going forward." – U.S. Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX-32)
NIAPPI, the key agent behind this misrepresentation and fraudulent promotional tactics, is a Hindu nationalist front organization posing as a public policy institute. It is a resting ground for RSS stalwarts like Bhailal Patel. In the case of this event, Kumar and company tried to run piggyback on an event titled the "Indian American Meetup" that has nothing to do with NIAPPI, and that is indeed taking place inside the Capitol Hill building on November 19. The program schedule for this event clearly shows that neither Mr. Modi nor any functionary of the RSS are scheduled to speak at this event. This GOP "meet and greet" event with Indian Americans was projected as a Modi promotional by Shalli Kumar and the NIAPPI.
And that brings us to the incendiary Ro Khanna campaign against progressive icon Mike Honda in CA-17, a D+20 district that takes in most of the Silicon Valley, much of Santa Clara County and the cities of Fremont, Newark, Sunnyvale and Cupertino. First elected in 2000, Honda has never been reelected with less than 2/3s of the vote and in 2012 he won with 74% (beating Obama's 72%). This year, as we've been writing, conservatives trying to knock off Honda have found an anti-working class fake Dem, Ro Khanna as a patsy. And wealthy Republicans and other conservatives have poured-- literally-- millions of dollars into Khanna's campaign.

Predictably, Khanna has been playing footsie with the proto-fascist Modi forces in the hope of getting money from Kumar's Republican SuperPAC. After consulting the State Department, the weasly Khanna pulled back and Kumar felt he had been stabbed in the back. So he recruited another Indian, this one an outright Republican, Vanila Singh, to run against Khanna and Honda. In California's jungle primary, she will pull votes and support directly from Khanna's conservative and Republican base. The San Francisco Chronicle's Carla Marinucci, who has been covering the campaign from the perspective of a Khanna partisan, was upset that Singh tossed her hat into the ring.
If Silicon Valley’s Democrat-versus-Democrat House race wasn’t already combative enough, now a first-time Republican candidate has jumped in and ignited a new drama-- one starring a conservative, wealthy Indian American donor and a politician at the center of ethnic conflicts raging half a world away.

Vanila Singh, a Stanford Medical Center anesthesiologist, says she entered the South Bay contest because it is “time to do my civic duty.”

But critics say the man who recruited her to run, Chicago businessman Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, has a far more divisive agenda.

Born in India and brought to the U.S. as a toddler, the 43-year-old Singh acknowledges she never considered a political career until Kumar, founder of a super PAC, Indian Americans for Freedom, asked in October whether she would be interested in jumping into a race that featured two Democrats-- the seven-term incumbent Mike Honda of San Jose and his main challenger, former Obama administration trade representative Ro Khanna.

Kumar was “a very nice gentleman” seeking “Indian Americans who might be interested in running,” said Singh, who lives in Fremont. After “multiple conversations” with him and other Republican insiders late last year, she filed to run Dec. 26-- one day after switching her voter registration from “decline to state” to Republican.

In recent weeks, Singh met in Washington, D.C., with Kumar, who chairs the Indian American Advisory Council of the House Republican Conference.

“Because of him, I was able to meet the congressional leaders,” Singh said. He also opened the door to introductions to other key players in the National Republican Congressional Committee and the chairman of the California Republican Party, Jim Brulte.

The GOP committee designated her “one to watch” in its national “Young Guns” program to encourage promising candidates.

Kumar-- who did not return phone calls or e-mails from the Chronicle-- told the publication IndiaWest that he approached Singh to be part of a “project” he founded with Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas. Their plan, he told the paper, was to build a GOP congressional “team” that supports a “pro-India” agenda.

Kumar told IndiaWest that had Khanna-- who, like Singh, is Indian American-- been “free of (House Minority Leader Nancy) Pelosi’s whip,” and willing to sign on to his agenda, he would have received the Indian super PAC’s support.

That agenda, according to several Indian American publications, includes securing a visa for the man Kumar has called his “idol,” Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist and leading candidate for prime minister in India’s upcoming elections.

…Kumar’s super PAC could alter the dynamics of the South Bay race, should he choose to back Singh financially. In 2002, the super PAC spent $500,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., including producing an ad set to Middle Eastern music that showed the double amputee Iraq war veteran wearing a headscarf during a visit to a local Muslim community center.

The Republican candidate that year was a Tea Party favorite, Joe Walsh. This year, Kumar is backing another candidate to oust Duckworth-- an Indian American health care executive, Manju Goel.

…Pressed about her views regarding the denial of Modi’s visa, Singh said the U.S. should “take another look” at the decision. “It would be regretful if certain groups that have certain agendas would make the policy for the United States,” Singh said. “U.S. policy came about because people pressured them.”

Her position stands in contrast to Honda and Khanna-- and to Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove (Sacramento County), the only Indian American member of the House-- who have said there is no reason to change the State Department’s ruling.

Singh’s links to Kumar raise alarms for Khalid Azam, a member of the American Indian Muslim Council and longtime resident of the district, home to one of the highest concentrations of South Asians in the nation.

“It is definitively a matter of great concern for the South Asian community-- the Muslim community and the entire Indian community,” Azam said.

Singh’s candidacy is “even more alarming,” he said, because of her activism with the Hindu American Foundation-- a group whose more fundamentalist factions back a Hindu supremacist movement in India.
Many people have questioned how much money is illegally funneled into Kumar's SuperPAC, Indian Americans for Freedom, from Modi supporters in India. The PAC refuses to disclose donors and backs right-wing Republicans with shady money. And now a word from Ro Khanna

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