Biden: Rescind Sri Preston Kulkarni's Nomination for RSS Ties

Biden: Rescind Sri Preston Kulkarni's Nomination for RSS Ties

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On 8 February 2021, Sri Preston Kulkarni announced that he had received an appointment by the new Biden administration to the position of Chief of External Affairs of Americorps, a federal agency for coordinating volunteer and service work. Kulkarni's appointment shocked many members of the South Asian American community considering it came just three months after he lost his second campaign for US Congress due to his refusal to disavow ties with US affiliates of India's fascist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary.

While running for Texas's 22nd district, Kulkarni initially financed his campaign with heavy funding coordinated by Ramesh Bhutada, the Vice-President of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (HSS-USA), which is the American wing of the RSS and is described by sympathizers as the "foreign name" of the paramilitary. Bhutada — the RSS's #2 man in America — has been described as the one responsible for getting Kulkarni's campaign "off the ground in the first month," while Kulkarni himself has said that his "campaign literally could not have happened" without Bhutada, stating, "Ramesh Bhutada has been like a father to me on this campaign."

Furthermore, despite concerns expressed by TX-22 constituents, Kulkarni joined the controversial "Howdy Modi," a promotional event for Indian Prime Minister (and RSS member) Narendra Modi which was protested by approximately 15,000 mostly South Asian American protestors.

Nearly 50 of the organizers of the event supplied hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance Kulkarni's campaign. Many of them not only have ties to US affiliates of the RSS, but also to the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party USA (OFBJP-USA), the American wing of India's ruling Hindu nationalist BJP. The OFBJP-USA (whose activists include Bhutada) is responsible for helping to elect Modi by mobilizing thousands of Indian-Americans to not only call from America but travel to India and campaign for the party. Consequently, it was compelled to register in 2020 under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

These and related issues sparked grave concerns among the constituents of TX-22, who initially repeatedly requested Kulkarni to disavow the RSS and, upon his refusal to do so, launched a multi-faith and bi-partisan campaign to ensure his loss.

Meanwhile, respected national Muslim political and human rights groups publicly challenged Kulkarni over his RSS ties.

Notably, Emgage Political Action Committee — which previously endorsed Kulkarni in 2018 — chose not to re-endorse him in 2020, stating: "Some of Kulkarni’s largest donors and closest supporters are leaders of organizations promoting Hindutva.  This far-right ideology, whose early founders openly praised Nazism, is completely antithetical to the inclusive and pluralistic values espoused by Emgage.... He was unwilling to publicly condemn Hindutva-inspired organizations such as RSS, HSS, and BJP, or repudiate his donors linked to these organizations.”

Additionally, Indian American Muslim Council wrote to Kulkarni, stating: “It is preposterous for your campaign to continue to maintain an anti-fascist posture in theory when your primary financial backers are Islamophobes rooted in the ideology of fascism.... The RSS, both in its ideology and its operating mechanisms, has borrowed heavily from Italian Fascism. Hindutva’s founding ideologues wrote approvingly on both Fascism and its collaboration with Nazi Germany, as well as Nazi Germany’s ‘purge’ of the Jewish people. Given this well-known history of RSS and Hindutva, many of us in the Muslim community were looking forward to your public disavowal of Hindutva, and distancing of your campaign from Hindutva’s front organizations in the US. To the dismay of many Indian Americans as well as progressives and liberals, you have done just the opposite.”

The controversy over Kulkarni and his RSS ties entered national news, with The Intercept reporting on "How Sri Preston Kulkarni's campaign for Congress Got Tangled Up in Indian Politics" while Slate asked, "Why Are Democrats Backing a House Candidate With Reportedly Shady Foreign Ties?" Since his loss in November 2020, Kulkarni's name continues to be connected to the RSS in both Indian media as well as leftwing American media. To date, he refuses to disavow the RSS.

As the RSS today — through the BJP — essentially rules India, is ideologically committed to an ethno-nationalist vision of the country where all religious minorities are subjugated or eliminated, and has a history of anti-minority pogroms (including as recently as February 2020), ties to the group or its US-based members are a serious matter. No one with such ties has any place in the Biden administration, particularly considering it has positioned itself as dedicated to opposing fascism. President Biden should rescind Sri Preston Kulkarni's appointment considering both how it will harm Americorps' image (especially in the eyes of many South Asian Americans) as well as the message it sends of tolerance for the RSS and its fascist agenda.

We, the undersigned, urge President Biden to rescind Kulkarni's nomination due to his RSS ties.

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