RSS-affiliated charitable groups spent about Rs 1,231.6 cr on Hindutva influence peddling in US, India: Report

The report by Jasa Macher also reveals that the BJP-led union govt paid between Rs 11.63 lakh to Rs 44.98 lakh on average per lobby group working to influence US policies between 2017 and 2020

RSS-affiliated charitable groups spent about Rs 1,231.6 cr on Hindutva influence peddling in US, India: Report

Ashlin Mathew

It was revealed that between 2001- 2019 seven Sangh-affiliated charitable groups in the US reportedly spent at least Rs 1,231.6 crore ($158.9 million) on Hindutva programming, sending much of it to groups in India and there are are reportedly 222 shakhas of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the US wing of the militant, paramilitary Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), across 32 states and 166 cities in the US, according to a new report ‘Hindu Nationalist Influence in the United States’.

The BJP-led union government paid between Rs 11.63 lakh to Rs 44.98 lakh ($15k-$58k) on average per lobby group working to influence US policies between 2017 and 2020. The Sangh’s efforts to amplify Hindutva priorities in US domestic and foreign policy were led by groups such as the Hindu American Foundation and Foundation for India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS); campaign financing through the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC).

The report by Jasa Macher tracked All India Movement (AIM) for Seva, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of America, India Development and Relief Fund, Param Shakti Peeth, PYP Yog Foundation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America, and Sewa International. It revealed that Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America reportedly operated 21 chapters in 14 states and its cultural projects often use different names, such as the Swami Vivekananda Family Camp or Hindu Mandir Executives Conference (HMEC).

Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of America is run by VHP and in India, the organisation is known to indoctrinate students in tribal villages against Muslims and Christians. Pratap Chandra Sarangi, who was the minister of state for animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries and micro, small and medium enterprises, had promoted Ekal schools in Odisha. Sarangi was the leader of the Bajrang Dal when a Hindutva mob brutally murdered Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two children in 1999.

According to the Federal Election Commission filings, from 2012 to 2020, HAPAC reportedly spent more than Rs 1.33 crore ($172,000) for influencing the US elections. Between 2015 and 2020, Democrat and Congress member Raja Krishnamoorthi reportedly received more than Rs 91 lakh ($117,000) from HAPAC and Sangh-affiliated individuals. Congress member and Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard received at least Rs 85 lakh ($110,000) between 2014 and 2019. Congressional candidate Srinivas Rao Preston Kulkarni of the Democratic Party received more than Rs 73 lakh ($95,000) in two years between 2018 and 2020. Democratic Congress member Brad Sherman received more than more than Rs 21 lakh ($27,000) in five years between 2014 and 2019.

The Dharma Civilization Foundation website and news media reported the foundation had offered over Rs 100.8 crore ( $13 million) between 2012-2016 toward establishing academic programmes or chairs at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), University of California at Irvine, and University of Southern California, with UC Irvine refusing the offered funds.

It has been reported that major donors to the Dharma Civilization Foundation include Mira and Ajay Shingal, Irma and Ushakant Thakkar, Drs. Harvinder and Asha Sahota and Drs Meera and Jasvant Modi.

Tax records reveal that the Uberoi Foundation spent at least Rs 20 lakh ($561,000) in the US between 2010 and 2016 for influencing public school textbooks, establishing university endowments, undertaking teacher training programmes, distributing research grants, and funding the VHPA’s Hindu University of America in order to saffronise South Asian history. The Delaware-based non-profit Uberoi Foundation for Religious Studies is run by University of Denver professor Ved Prakash Nanda. The Foundation had played an active role in the California textbook rewriting campaign of 2016 for erasing caste and had given Rs 1.1 crore ($142,000) to HAF for this purpose.

The Bhutada Family Foundation reportedly gave over Rs 13.8 crore ($1.7 million) to Sangh-affiliated charities from 2006 to 2018. It is run by Indian-American from Texas and national vice president of HSS, Ramesh Bhutada, who is also the board chairperson at Sewa International. Bhutada is an electrical engineer and the founder and CEO of Texas-based Star Pipe Products, an iron products company that employs nearly 400 people. His son Rishi Bhutada is the vice president of finance at Star Pipes and on the board of the HAF.

The Puran Devi Aggarwal Family Foundation, whose directors include Braham Aggarwal, Suresh K Gupta and Avanish M Aggarwal, reportedly gave over Rs 2.11 crore ($272,000) to Sangh-affiliated charities from 2008 and 2018. Braham Aggarwal founded the Hindu University of America, the education wing of the VHPA, in 1985 and was also the former director of the HSS South East America. The Aggarwals and Gupta are owners of an Orlando-based housing company Park Square Homes.

In April 2021, Al Jazeera reported that five US-based Hindu nationalist groups—Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA, HAF, Infinity Foundation, Sewa International, and VHPA—received approximately Rs 6.5 crore ($833,000) of US federal COVID-19-related funds. The Infinity Foundation is headed by American Hindutva activist and author Rajiv Malhotra.

The research also showcased possible financial irregularities through government filings, including possible electioneering work by Global Indians for Bharat Vikas, a series of land and money transfers between Vivek Welfare and Education Foundation and other groups, and some multi-million-dollar loans from non-profit groups like the India Development and Relief Fund and Bhutada Family Foundation to other entities. HAF has also appeared to provide material aid to Pakistan Hindu Refugee Relief Program (PHRRP), a VHP-affiliated channel of funds to India whose website states it is not a tax-exempt organisation.

The report observed that the Sangh’s proliferating network of groups have influenced multitudes of social sectors across India, the US and other parts of the world.

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