In 2019, US Congressman Ro Khanna reached out to me, and we have stayed in touch since. For over the past one year, I have directly and personally interacted with Ro Khanna.
I first met Ro for lunch in his district in California in Summer 2022; most recently, I spent nearly an hour and a half with him and his Chief of Staff walking around the US Capitol in June 2023, the day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to a Joint Session of US Congress.
My interactions left me with the impression that Ro is a genuine, good-hearted guy. They also left me with the impression that he is deeply concerned by – and possibly measuring his political actions against – pressure from Hindu nationalist groups in the USA.
In short, my personal interactions with Ro indicate to me that he is, unfortunately, quite concerned by the political clout of the Hindutva [ie, Hindu nationalist] gang. He seems to couch his actions in a way that will placate that gang.
Like many politicians, Ro is straddling the fence.
In fact, when I told him last month that many people think he is doing this, he responded (paraphrased): “Exactly. I am straddling the fence.”
Ro is already taking tons of heat from the Hindutva gang for rare and relatively vanilla anti-Hindutva rhetoric. When I met him on the Hill last month, I remarked that it’s “vanilla” rhetoric – meaning, generally, toothless – and he seemed to agree that it was. Vanilla anti-Hindutva rhetoric aside, Ro has made multiple policy actions which actually help the Modi regime.
There are several politicians in America who are overtly affiliated with Hindutva, and Ro is not one of them, but out of all of them, his successfully-pushed policies (all in the past one year) have probably done more harm to the American anti-Hindutva struggle than all the overtly Hindutva-aligned politicians combined.
Yet, the fact that Ro’s still taking so much heat, primarily for a 2019 statement (made over four years ago) against Hindutva is very, very illustrative of how much courage it does take to oppose Hindutva, even in America. For that I salute Ro.
Unfortunately, that single statement in 2019 was the only major thing Ro ever really did on the Indian human rights front.
To be fair, an openly Hindutva-aligned candidate, Ritesh Tandon, is now running to unseat Ro Khanna in 2024, for the third time, with his open motivation for opposing Ro being his anti-Hindutva comments in 2019. There’s no question that Ro has faced immense pressure from the Hindutva gang, and I think that’s probably why he’s been almost entirely absent when it comes to taking a stand as the human rights situation in India went from bad to horrifying over the last four years.
I do wish that Ro, a man whom I do greatly like, knew not only how much love he would get but also what a real world difference he could make if he stopped straddling the fence, weathered the expanded hate he would get for doing it, and became the loudest, most consistent voice for the restoration of a truly democratic India.
Legends don’t walk middle grounds.
Ro tells me that his “views on India are national security driven.” I believe him. That’s a big part of the problem.
He’s silent on the human rights atrocities, I can only surmise, because he’s apparently more bothered by geopolitical theorizing and think-tank driven talking points than he is by the violence that Modi’s Hindu nationalist regime tolerates and even sanctions against Indian citizens — that or, perhaps, he’s silent because he is concerned by the political clout of the Hindutva gang in America and doesn’t want to upset them more than he already has.
Ro tells me, “[I am] genuinely not concerned by the clout of the far right and have ignored them and upset them time and again.” Ro, if you’re not afraid to upset the Hindutva gang, and you’re a true humanitarian, then I will ask of you to take an immediate action which would not only demonstrate it but also potentially save lives of Indian religious minorities who are at risk right now.
Ro, go on the floor of the US House of Representatives to speak against the ongoing anti-Christian violence in Manipur.
In fact, beginning yesterday morning, on 25 July 2023, I have decided to go on hunger strike to demand that Ro Khanna speak on the floor of the House against the ongoing anti-Christian violence in Manipur.
Ro made history in 2019 by declaring it “the duty of every American politician of Hindu faith to… reject Hindutva [ie, Hindu nationalism].” But then in 2023, after Ro Khanna became Co-Chair of the House India Caucus, he swiftly helped platform Modi, the “Emperor of Hindutva,” at a Joint Session of US Congress while Manipur was burning. Ro must walk his own talk, stop straddling the fence, and use his platform to denounce — on the House floor — the Hindutva-fueled anti-Christian violence in Manipur.
Soon after I announced my hunger-strike, Ro publicly responded to it. Sidestepping the Manipur issue completely, he said only: “Please make sure you are taking care of your health, being monitored by medical professionals and stay healthy and safe.”
Ro’s response is absolutely unacceptable. Over 100 dead, hundreds of churches burned, tens of thousands made homeless. People are being gang-raped, beheaded, and burned alive in Manipur. What we need to hear is not Ro’s concern for me but Ro’s concern for the suffering Christians in Manipur.
Ro, do you agree that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere? Do you agree that those who are neutral in situations of injustice have chosen the side of the oppressor? Private dialogues will only perpetuate the cycle of violence; breaking neutrality requires using the position you’ve been given to take a public stance which, in this case, means speaking on the House floor.
Listen to your conscience, Ro. Speak out for the besieged Christians of Manipur, Ro. As you stay silent, their suffering continues.
Speak out, Ro.
Pieter Friedrich is a freelance journalist specializing in analysis of South Asian affairs. He is the author of Sikh Caucus: Siege in Delhi, Surrender in Washington and Saffron Fascists: India’s Hindu Nationalist Rulers as well as co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at PieterFriedrich.net.