In the wake of recent events, the United States is paying closer attention to Indian American supporters of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, one of India’s political wings.
Washington, D.C.- Indian Americans who support India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and India’s ruling party BJP are getting more attention from US authorities. This is because of a law that says Americans who work for or on behalf of foreign governments or entities must register as “foreign agents.”
Sources say that at least two Indian Americans are beinginvestigated.One of them has known and supported India’s Prime Minister for a long time; and he’s been at the forefront of many diaspora rallies and outreach events with Modi and senior members of his cabinet.
He did not respond to a request for an interview.
“Please note that the FARA Unit does not give advice to third parties or comment on what the staff is doing to make sure the Act is followed,” the spokesperson wrote in response.
In July of this year, Ethos Foundation, based in Texas, became the second organization started by Indian Americans to register under FARA (DBA – Bharati Foundation). It is run by an Indian citizen who lives in the US and two Americans of Indian descent. It wasn’t clear right away if US authorities forced the group to register under FARA, or if it did so on its own.
On its registration form, the organization listed Kishore Poreddy as the person it works with and called him the official Spokesperson of BJP. It also listed the BJP’s address as Nampally Hyderabad, Telangana, India.
The group said that its goal is to communicate with non-resident Indians and make them aware of politics in India. Allegedly, its activities are limited to “just helping the Foreign Principal (the BJP) gain the trust of the Indian diaspora so that it can help them in their elections in India.”
About the services done for the foreign client, the BJP, it said, “We will help communicate with the Indian diaspora, which will help Indians know about India and its politicians and cultural ambassadors. This will help the Indian diaspora get in touch with Indian cultural and political ambassadors, so they won’t be in the dark about their home country.”
Overseas Friends of BJP-USA was the first group made up of Indian Americans that had to register with the US Justice Department under FARA. The group and its three leaders, who are all naturalized American citizens of Indian descent, had to do this in August 2020. During his last trip to Washington, DC in September, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar shared the stage with one of them at a diaspora event.
At the time, the Overseas Friends of BJP were in hot water after they used a bulldozer at a rally in New Jersey to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India’s independence. Critics said that the bulldozer was a plan to bring India’s divisive politics to the US, since it has become a symbol of how minorities are treated there. A group of Muslim and African American advocacy groups want the FBI and CIA to look into how Indian right-wing politics are becoming more visible in the US.
In its FARA registration form, the Overseas Friends of BJP said that the BJP is the “foreign principal” that it represents and works for. The Overseas Friends of BJP work with Vijay Chauthaiwale, who is in charge of the department of foreign affairs for the BJP.
The group said that it works with the foreign client, the BJP, “on its own initiative and doesn’t get paid for its work.” It said that what it did was set up and support “local chapters in the US to promote the BJP in the US and show a true and positive picture of India.”
It is legal in the US for American citizens to lobby the US government and Congress on behalf of foreign governments and groups. But people and businesses that do these things should register with the US Justice Department and send quarterly reports to the US Congress with information about their clients, services, and fees.
For example, BGR Government Affairs has been lobbying for the Indian government for a long time. The Indian embassy in Washington, which is listed as the “foreign principal” in the registration papers, hires them directly. “Part of the contract and how it will be done is that strategic advice and outreach will be needed for government relations and public relations work in the US. This could involve reaching out to US media, government officials, non-government groups, and other people in the US. “It may also involve spreading informational materials,” the group said on its most recent registration form. It will likely charge the Indian government $300,000 for a six-month period that starts in October 2022 and ends in March 2023.
But the Overseas Friends of BJP and the Ethos Foundation have said that they do not get paid by their “foreign principal,” the BJP, for the work they do for them.
The increasing scrutiny of the BJP and Modi government’s Indian American friends has shaken up the Indian community. Many of those who are active in promoting India-US relations are being cautious about what they say and do, some of them said in interviews on the condition of anonymity.