On the morning of January 7, people in India woke up to the news of violent Capitol Hill insurrection by the supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump. Following the siege — which happened when the elected senators and Congressional representatives were formally validating the result of the November 3 Presidential elections — the then President-Elect Joe Biden called the insurrection an act of ‘domestic terrorism.’
On January 27, the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) issued a bulletin, and the Homeland Security Department officially mandated the attackers as “Homegrown Violent Extremists ” and that “the driver to violence will remain through early 2021” due to “long-standing racial and ethnic tension—including opposition to immigration.”
Although US agencies have acknowledged the serious threat posed to national security by the pro-Trump white supremacists, there were other supporters at the siege, a group of Indian Americans waving the Indian national flag and shouting ‘Stop the Steal,’ who have mostly gone unnoticed.
A closer look at the links of some of the identified individuals’ reveals that they adhere to the ideology of Hindu nationalism or Hindutva that advocates for Hindu supremacy, especially over Muslims and have intense disgust for non-violent and democratic ethos.
Xavier Vincent, also known as Vinson Palathingal was one among them, who admitted to his participation during the siege in an interview with India based Manorama News.
Palathingal, who claims to be a pro-business conservative, is a Republican Party member and traces his roots to the Southern Indian state of Kerala and now lives in the US.
Interestingly, he is associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)— an ultra-Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organisation— which is the parent ideologue of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India. In a 2018 Facebook post, Palathingal wrote about his links with RSS, dating back to his childhood.
Earlier, he organised campaigns and fundraised for Republican candidates among the Indian diaspora.
Vinson Palathingal (Vincent Xavier, Indian American part of pro Trump mob at #USCapitol) event for Aliscia Andrews (also seen with Krishna Gudipati who waved flag at #CapitolSiege) along with Hindu Nationalist, pro Modi supporter Srilekha Palle https://t.co/qaQ3JgbP8r pic.twitter.com/xfjLMLLNSm
— Hindutva Watch (@Hindutva__watch) January 9, 2021
Ayyadurai, a pro-Trump Republican, who wanted to run for Senate from Massachusetts (lost the primary) is known for his links with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the duo were once photographed together.
Those Indian-Americans— influenced by lies and alternative truths peddled by Trump, hence supported a process to invalidate the result of a democratic election — are products of radicalization in another country.
Palathingal is known for having influential contacts in the Indian government. He had close links with BJP Member of Parliament, Poonam Mahajan and ‘Godman’ Ravi Shankar.
Mahajan is Preston Kulkarni’s cousin, the Democratic candidate who lost from the Texas Congressional District #22. Kulkarni is also accused of having strong ties to Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) members, the US branch of RSS.
Palathingal was actively campaigning for Republican candidates as well. In a political poster for the promotion of Congressional Republican candidate Aliscia Andrews from Virginia 10th, Palathingal served as a co-chair of an event alongside Srilekha Palle.
A Twitter handle, which monitors Hindutva groups, noted Palle as a Hindu nationalist and pro-Modi supporter. Her association with alt-right Hindutva extremist organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) — a violent and militant offshoot of RSS — US chapter can be traced back to 2012.
Not just Palathingal, Gudipati also has stakes in Hindu nationalist organisations. He is the member of Virat Hindustan Sangam (VHS)—an organisation founded by Subramanian Swamy. VHS pitches for making India a Hindu nation.
A top BJP leader and anti-Muslim and anti-Christian provocateur, Swamy, while commenting on Indian Muslims, in an interview with Vice News said that “all people are not equal, there’s no such thing as equal rights, they (Muslims) are not in equal category”.
Gudipati is also a member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) of America- an offshoot of RSS and sister organisation of VHP India, which is responsible for instigating many anti-Muslim riots across the country.
He also facilitated Republica candidate Andrews interview with Indian TV news channel Republic TV run by Arnab Goswami. Goswami’s channel is known for running Islamophobic prime time debates. His channel, in fact, blamed Muslims for spreading coronavirus. The selective targeting of Muslims led to mob attacks and social ostracisation in many parts of the country.
An admirer of PM Modi and Trump, Gudipati was part of American4Hindus PAC founded by Jay Kansara, the Director of Government Relations at Hindu American Foundation (HAF).
Interestingly, HAF lobbies for Hindutva’s parent organisation, the RSS and deflects any criticism of the Modi government on Capitol Hill.
The Capitol’s horrific incident did not just shake the democratic circles in the US alone; it infuriated conscientious circles in India, as visuals of an Indian flag waved at the violent insurrection led by white supremacists went viral on social media.
The Indian-Americans’ support to the Capitol’s desecration and challenging the authority of the Constitution by the racists, neo-Nazis, QAnon, Proud-Boys is rooted in their allegiance to RSS’s supremacist ideology.
In principle, their ideology resembles the other right-wing nationalist movements around the world and even worse. The global impacts of this ideology on rightwing groups can be gauged from Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto—the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people, including dozens of children, in 2011. In his manifesto, Breivik reflected his admiration towards the Hindu nationalist ideology and called on people to learn from the European and Indian rightwing movements.
In fact, in the context of Indian Muslims, one of the most vicious Hindutva ideologue in a 1944 interview with American war reporter Tom Treanor explicitly showed his deep hatred towards Muslims.
“How do you plan to treat the Mohammedans (Muslims)?” asked Treanor.
Savarkar responded by saying, “As a minority, in the position of your Negroes.”
The Indian-Americans, waving the Indian flag, follow the ideological proposition of people like Savarkar and Breivik, as they have been brainwashed to a religious and supremacist nationalism—envisaged by RSS and its offshoots like VHP and Bajrang Dal.
Over the decades, these groups have wreaked havoc on minorities especially Muslims and Christians in India. Named by Central Intelligence Agency’s World Facebook as religious militant organisations, their members are behind the demolition of Babri Masjid, the gruesome killing of an Australian missionary and his family in Odisha, the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and many others.
While the involvement of these groups in militant activities is well established, their presence in the US has been witnessing an upward trend, particularly since 2014 when Modi rose to power in India. With a population of 0.7 percent, Hindus are an ethnic minority group in the US.
However, according to a PEW research center study in 2014, Hindus also form a dominant ethnic group in terms of education, 77 percent have a college or higher education, and income—70 percent have a per capita income of $50,000.
Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS)—the US wing of RSS and VHP of America— has 222 shakhas and 21 chapters in the country, respectively. As the numbers of chapters are growing, the number of members have also grown manifold over the years.
With such a presence in the diaspora, the Indian PM, who himself was a full-time RSS worker, found it worth influencing the Indian American voters to support Trump, a fellow demagogue, both of whom share a dangerous view of the world.
In the early days of electioneering in the US, appropriating an alteration of BJP’s 2014 General Election slogan, “Ab ki Baar, Modi sarkar,” Modi said, “Ab ki Baar, Trump Sarkar” in front of 50,000-strong-crowd, mostly Indian-Americans, during the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston. The phrase, which simply translates into “This time, Trump’s government,” was nothing less than campaigning for Trump ahead of the 2020 Presidential Elections.
No wonder, when Trump lost, the Pro Modi and RSS supporters in the US felt the same way as the mobs of pro-Trump fanatics consisting of QAnon, Proud Boys, and neo-fascists that stormed the Capitol in a violent assault.
The violent insurrection has laid bare the imminent danger these extremist groups pose to national security. Be it India or the US; these extremist groups remain a threat to the collective consciousness and democracy at large.