After Hillary Clinton’s bewildering fact-free assertion last month that Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset, many on the Left were rightly reminding us of Gabbard’s horrifying connections to India’s far-right government. But Gabbard isn’t the only Democratic primary candidate carrying water for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and she’s unlikely to ever become president. Front-runner Joe Biden’s own ties to the extremist leader deserve far more attention.
The Intercept reported last month that Amit Jani, Biden’s director of outreach to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (a broad category), is a passionate Modi backer. And he’s working for a candidate who, as vice president, was ardently in favor of closer US ties with Modi’s India: “Our goal is to become India’s best friend,” Biden said in 2015.
For anyone worried about the rise of murderous far-right movements around the globe, these relationships should be deeply troubling. As Jaya Sundaresh recently wrote in Current Affairs, when Modi was chief minister of the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, he “presided over some of the worst anti-Muslim violence seen in India in the modern age.” He is known by religious minorities in India as “the butcher of Gujarat.” Before his 2014 election to prime minister, the State Department did not allow him to travel to the United States because of his complicity in these deadly 2002 riots. Under Modi, Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state, has been living under a kind of military dictatorship. More than 1.9 million people in Assam, another Indian state, have been stripped of their Indian citizenship. Most of them are Muslim. The Modi government is building concentration camps for them. Hate crimes have dramatically increased.
On Facebook, the Biden staffer, Amit Jani, exuberantly celebrated the May reelection of this ghoulish fascist. In the Facebook post, he praises his mother, Deepti Jani, for her work on the campaign. His father, the late Suresh Jani, was one of the founders of Overseas Friends of the BJP, a group founded to help Indians around the world raise money for, and counter negative press about, Modi’s ultranationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The elder Jani met Modi at a meeting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the paramilitary organization out of which the BJP grew, which is also very active in the United States. After he immigrated to the United States, Suresh Jani hosted Modi at his New Jersey home.
The Overseas Friends of the BJP’s volunteers phone-banked for Modi’s May reelection from the United States, making more than a million calls to voters in India. Although BJP supporters are a minority among Indian Americans, they are monied and vocal. Yet pro-Modi sentiment doesn’t necessarily translate into support for the US far right. As journalist Soumya Shankar reported in Foreign Policy magazine in May, many BJP supporters in the United States vote for Democrats.
Biden’s not alone among Democrats in courting these voters by getting cozy with the fascists they like. While a recent “Howdy Modi” event in Texas to welcome the far-right president included many Republican politicians, plenty of Democratic elected officials were there, too. The Intercept’s Rashmee Kumar reported that Steny Hoyer, Sheila Jackson Lee, Carolyn Maloney, Danny Davis, and Raja Krishnamoorthi attended. Kumar quoted one Indian American anti-BJP activist asking how Democrats could credibly run against Trump’s racism and xenophobia while giving Modi supporters a pass: “Can we afford to be progressive domestically but fascist abroad?”
Since Modi’s recent reelection, only a few prominent US politicians have spoken out against his government; these include Bernie Sanders, Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal, and Ro Khanna. Whether through noisy protest or lost votes, people should object to their quiescence — and to the enthusiastic right-winger on Biden’s staff. Americans, even on the Left, tend to be clueless about foreign countries, but the rising far right thinks globally. Let’s not let fascists pass as blandly multi-culti corporate centrists.