How Hindu Nationalism Caused Drama in Maryland's Election Race for Governor

Lieutenant Governor candidate Aruna Miller, who served in Maryland’s House of Delegates from 2010 to 2019, is facing backlash from Maryland voters due to her history of accepting donations from Hindutva-affiliated donors while pursuing the state’s second highest executive office.

The influence of Hindutva in US politics received attention in 2019 when an investigation revealed that former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign received funding from leaders of the US wings of India’s RSS-BJP. Other candidates and elected officials have also been linked to the American network of Hindutva donors, including Congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni and Congressman Raja Krishnahmoorthi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling party since 2014, is the political wing of a Hindu nationalist paramilitary group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS desire an exclusively Hindu nation and view non-Hindus, notably Muslims and Christians, as foreign to India and needing to be relegated to second-class citizenship or removed from the country, cultivating discrimination and violence against India’s minorities.

Leading up to the 2014 election, the BJP’s Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India, the Overseas Friends of Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP), the international wing of India’s ruling BJP, mobilized thousands of Americans to travel to India to work for his election. After Modi’s victory in the election, the OFBJP brought over Indian politicians, such as OFBJP Global Coordinator Vijay Jolly, to build Modi’s popularity among the Indian-American diaspora, as well as meeting with US politicians such as Tulsi Gabbard and Aruna Miller.

At a press conference on July 11, Scott Webber of Maryland Progressive Voices detailed Miller’s association with Hindutva donors for over a decade and attending events hosted by the OFBJP. One such event that Miller attended was a banquet celebrating Modi’s becoming Prime Minister of India, in which Miller spoke praise of Modi. The OFBJP banquet’s organizers, Sudhir Sekhsaria and Gurpreet Takhar, have donated to Miller’s campaign since 2011, a year after she first took office. After Miller announced her candidacy for Maryland’s sixth congressional district, Sekhsaria became her official campaign treasurer, furthering their public involvement and financial ties.

Sudhir Sekhsaria and Ramesh Bhutada, the long-time Vice President of the American wing of the RSS, hosted a fundraiser in Texas, raising tens of thousands of dollars for Tulsi Gabbard’s campaign, and later did the same for Sri Preston Kulkarni. Gabbard has received donations from numerous other Hindutva-affiliated sources, including national OFBJP executives. The OFBJP was compelled to register as a Foreign Agent in America in August 2020. Aruna Miller has also received donations from a nationwide network of donors from outside the state of Maryland. These contributions have called Miller into question about how much money she has received, the need for her to accept responsibility for the Hindutva-identified donors, and why she would attend events hosted by a partisan Indian political outfit.

In May 2022, referencing her attendance and praise of Modi at the August 2014 OFBJP banquet, Miller posted on Twitter: “I attended an event a decade ago before any authoritarian action he took as Prime Minister.”While Modi had not yet engaged in any authoritarian actions as Prime Minister, he previously had a known history of human rights violations. Modi was banned from entering the US for nearly a decade for his support of violence in Gujarat in 2002, causing the death of at least 2000 Muslims. As an elected Prime Minister, Modi was granted diplomatic immunity but faced a federal court summons upon visiting the US.

In June 2022, Maryland gubernatorial candidate John B. King became the first known political campaign to return a donation with known ties to the Hindutva movement, taking a firm stance and bringing attention to the influence of Hindutva in American politics. King released a statement on Twitter condemning the movement and reiterating his commitment to ensuring religious freedom for all.

The group Maryland Progressive Voices reports that they have reached out to Miller’s campaign requesting that she denounce Hindutva and return any contributions she has received from Hindutva-affiliated sources. To date, this request has not been met.

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