Tulsi Gabbard - the first Samoan American and the first Hindu member of the United States’ Congress representing Hawaii - has been in a controversy ever since her election. She has been accused of using her political position to align with the right wing supremacist Hindutva party of India, the BJP.
Gabbard has openly shown her support for authoritarians abroad including the president of Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and India’s PM Narendra Modi. Time and again, she has attended events of the RSS-BJP and have shown solidarity with the ‘threat to the Hindus’ due to the Islamist extremism. Due to her radical ideology, she has been labelled as a person who celebrates and embraces fascists who massacre Muslims, Christians and other minorities.
Hindu-Americans have supported Gabbard since the start of her political career, and that support has increased substantially since Modi’s election, much of it coming from Hindu nationalists. After Modi’s election in 2014, in a public gathering at a Hindu temple in Atlanta, organised by the Overseas Friends of the BJP, the American chapter of the BJP, the Modi supporters appealed to donate for Gabbard’s re-election campaign describing her as an “American Hindu” who “has fought against the anti-Modi resolution introduced recently by some members of Congress.” According to Gabbard’s financial disclosures from 2011 to October, 2018, majority of her donors have strong ties with the Sangh Parivar.
Since 2013, Gabbard has attended conferences across the US, organised by Sangh Parivar affiliates like the Vishva Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) whose Indian counterpart has been recognized as a ‘militant religious organisation’ advocating violence against Muslims in India by the CIA World Factbook. Gabbard also has strong ties with the Hindu American Foundation, a not-for-profit advocacy organization of Hindu-Americans.
Gabbard’s ties to VHPA members have seeped over from professional to personal. VHPA member Rishi Bhutada and the National General Secretary of the BJP, Ram Madhav, were invited to her wedding at Hawaii. Madhav had reportedly given a gift to Gabbard on behalf of Modi.
Gabbard had openly criticized the US government’s decision to ban Modi’s visa owing to his alleged involvement in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots that killed more than 1000 people of which almost 800 were Muslims. Gabbard called the no-visa decision a “great blunder.” Further, in December 2013, she had voiced her opposition to the House Resolution 417 which criticized India for failing to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities referring to the mass violence against Muslim minorities that had taken place under Modi’s watch. She told the media, “there was a lot of misinformation that surrounded the event in 2002.”
The 2020 presidential candidate Gabbard has repeatedly expressed her sympathies for authoritarian world leaders. Her Hindu supremacist exclusionary ideology aligns with that of India’s BJP and its leader Modi with whom she shares a great rapport. After a meeting with Modi, she had said, “We had a wide-ranging discussion on several issues our countries have in common, including how America and India can work together to help combat the global threat posed by Islamic extremism.”
Predictably, Gabbard has denied connections with the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates. However, the Hawaiians have accused her of putting the interests of religious fanatics ahead of the interests of humanity calling her a ‘polarizing figure’. They have expressed their disapproval of Gabbard’s ignorance of the conditions of the people of Hawaii.
As right-wing nationalism rises across the globe, people like Gabbard are beginning to be recognized as an existential threat to a world order rooted in liberal democratic values.