Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP) has often been accused of influencing the international political landscape to make it more amenable to the party’s agenda. It has a presence not only in the United States, but also across the world in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Recently, the American arm of the organisation courted controversy when it was alleged that its activities were the subject of a probe by the Department of Justice (DOJ). The allegations were made by Pieter Friedrich, an author and activist, who according to his official website “specializes in analysis of historical and current affairs in South Asia. He engages with issues such as human rights, supremacist political ideologies, ethnonationalism, politicization of religion, authoritarian government structures and policies, state-sponsored atrocities, and the need to unify around doctrines of liberty.”
In his tweet, Friedrich said, “Stunning news as @ofbjp_usa , a major support base 4 India’s Hindu nationalist @BJP4India which mobilized 1000s of Indian-Americans 3 travel 3 India to campaign 4 the party, is reportedly under investigation by @TheJusticeDept & has suspended all activities. #ForeignInterference ”
Stunning news as @ofbjp_usa, a major support base 4 India’s Hindu nationalist @BJP4India which mobilized 1000s of Indian-Americans 3 travel 3 India to campaign 4 the party, is reportedly under investigation by @TheJusticeDept & has suspended all activities. #ForeignInterference
— Pieter Friedrich (@FriedrichPieter) September 9, 2020
He claimed that he got the news from Ashok Swain, Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden, “who reports it’s circulating in internal #OFBJP WhatsApp groups & @ofbjp_usa is desperate to suppress the news. No surprise they want to keep it quiet considering Indian-American #BJP backers were backbone for Modi’s election.”
News comes from @ashoswai, who reports it’s circulating in internal #OFBJP WhatsApp groups & @ofbjp_usa is desperate to suppress the news. No surprise they want to keep it quiet considering Indian-American #BJP backers were backbone for Modi’s election.https://t.co/VdS4MV9HuK
— Pieter Friedrich (@FriedrichPieter) September 9, 2020
Friedrich asks if the organisation came under the DOJ scanner for violating provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Act “requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents.”
Friedrich then goes on to share a copy of the organisation’s registration form with the DOJ under the FARA, an application uploaded to https://s3.amazonaws.com/
It shows that the application was received by the registration unit of FARA on August 27, 2020. A copy of the application may be viewed here:
However, OFBJP denies allegations of being under investigation by the DOJ. Taking to Twitter, the organisation said, “OFBJP-USA has voluntarily registered with DOJ under FARA. President @krishnareddyNJ has stepped down due to his family reasons and @AdapaVPrasad took over the responsibilities as the working President. OFBJP-USA is fully functional and is not under any investigation. @vijai63”
OFBJP-USA has voluntarily registered with DOJ under FARA. President @krishnareddyNJ has stepped down due to his family reasons and @AdapaVPrasad took over the responsibilities as the working President. OFBJP-USA is fully functional and is not under any investigation. @vijai63
— OFBJP – USA (@ofbjp_usa) September 10, 2020
The organisation’s official Twitter handle says in its description, “Disseminated by Overseas Friends of BJP-USA,a registered foreign agent, on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party. More information is on file with the DOJ, DC.”
Former OFBJP president Krishna Reddy A identifies as a ‘Community Organiser’ on his personal Twitter handle, while Adapa V Prasad who has taken over now as working president states in his Twitter bio that he is an “Indian-American community organizer and leader from Washington, DC. Scientist, Consultant, and Technologist.” Meanwhile, Dr Vijay Chauthaiwale who posted the tweet on behalf of the organisation describes himself on his personal Twitter handle as “Scientist, Manager, nationalist and a friend. In-Charge, Foreign Affairs Dept, Bharatiya Janata Party, India. Views expressed are strictly personal.”
So, what does this organisation that has scientists and technologists among its office bearers actually do? Well, according to the official website of OFBJP US, their objectives are as follows:
To work towards projecting a positive and correct image of India and its people in the U.S. and foreign media, and correct any distortions in the media’s reporting of current events taking place in India.
To promote the philosophy of ‘Integral Humanism’.
To foster a cordial relationship between Asian Indian and North American People, by establishing direct communication channels with local ethnic and national media, and organizing regular seminars on topics of mutual interest.
To work towards strengthening social bonds among Indian Americans, irrespective of region, religion, race, creed and color, and help to generate a feeling of oneness and brotherhood.
To create a think tank of mature, experienced and intelligent individuals of Indian origin in order to utilize their expertise and wisdom to generate new ideas which could be beneficial for the Asian Indian community in North America and the people of India.
To work towards strengthening social bonds among Asian Indians, irrespective of region, religion, race, creed and color, and help to generate a feeling of oneness and brotherhood.
The organisation claims to achieve these goals by opening local chapters and arranging “talks, seminars, symposia, press conferences, public meetings/rallies, internet activities and other programs on issues pertaining to India and Indo – American cooperation and culture.”
It also lists among its scope of work, “Publish books, pamphlets, journals, newsletters/papers,” and “Issue appeals to raise funds, and collect money by way of memberships, contributions, grants and any other lawful means or methods.”
But OFBJP has faced serious allegations of attempting to forward the BJP’s agenda not just in India, but also in the US by backing political players who are perceived to be more open to the party’s ideology.
Writing for The Citizen in April 2019 in a piece titled How India’s Ruling Party Mobilizes Indian-Americans to Win Elections Friedrich had showcased how OFBJP operated phone banks targeting Indian Americans to call their families in India and urge them to vote for the BJP.
Friedrich has also claimed that Tulsi Gabbard had been backed by the ‘Sangh’. Writing for The Caravan in a piece titled All in the Family: The American Sangh’s affair with Tulsi Gabbard in August 2019, Friedrich had claimed that supporters of the Sangh Parivar in the US had helped build Gabbard’s brand and position her as someone who would pay attention to concerns of Hindus.
Meanwhile, News 18 reports that the BJP has restrained its overseas wing members from using party logo in US polls. Dr Vijai Chauthaiwale has reportedly issued a statement to members of the OFBJP to “participate in US election campaign and support any candidate or a party in their personal capacity” but “not to use BJP or OFBJP’s name during the campaign.”
American Presidential Elections are scheduled for November this year with incumbent Donald Trump facing off against Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden.