Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) criticized media outlets highlighting her alleged ties to Hindu nationalists in an op-ed published by Religion News Service. The Hawaii congresswoman and presidential candidate claimed headlines have fomented religious bigotry against her and her supporters:
I am proud to be the first Hindu American to have been elected to Congress and now the first Hindu American to run for president.
While the headlines covering my announcement could have celebrated this historic first, and maybe even informed Americans about the world’s third largest religion, some have instead fomented suspicion, fear and religious bigotry about not only me but also my supporters.
That Hindus — alongside countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists — support me should not be newsworthy. But some media outlets have chosen to craft a false narrative of intrigue by profiling and targeting all of my donors who have names of Hindu origin and accusing them of being "Hindu nationalists."
Today it’s the profiling and targeting of Hindu Americans and ascribing to them motives without any basis. Tomorrow will it be Muslim or Jewish Americans? Japanese, Hispanic or African Americans?
I too have been accused of being a "Hindu nationalist."
Gabbard claims critics cite the fact that she met with India's prime minister Narendra Modi as "proof" of her being a Hindu nationalist. These same critics, she argues, have not criticized President Donald Trump, President Barack Obama, and other members of Congress who have met with Modi.
"To question my commitment to my country, while not questioning non-Hindu leaders, creates a double standard that can be rooted in only one thing: religious bigotry. I am Hindu and they are not," Gabbard writes.
Gabbard pointed to last year's shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue as "a reminder of the potential consequences of unchecked prejudice and hatred." She also referenced President John F. Kennedy's political opponents, who suggested his Catholicism would interfere with his loyalty to the Constitution.
"Those who are trying to foment anti-Hindu sentiment expose the dark underbelly of religious bigotry in politics and must be called out. To advocate voting for or against someone based on religion, race or gender is simply un-American," Gabbard concluded.
Gabbard released an ad on Sunday expressing similar points to those made in her op-ed.
Earlier this month, the Intercept reported on Gabbard's alleged ties to Hindu nationalists who support Modi. According to the report, "Modi’s reputation has been helped by a group of Hindu-American supporters with links to the [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS] and other Hindu nationalist organizations, who’ve been working in tandem with a peculiar congressional ally: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard."
The RSS is a Hindu nationalist organization which seeks "to carve out a Hindu nation in which Muslims and Christians are considered second-class citizens."
An analysis of the congresswoman's financial disclosures since 2011 found "dozens of [her] donors have either expressed strong sympathy with or have ties to the Sangh Parivar—a network of religious, political, paramilitary, and student groups that subscribe to the Hindu supremacist, exclusionary ideology known as Hindutva."
In 2013, Gabbard voiced opposition to a House resolution which condemned India's record on religious freedom. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom had raised concerns about the state of religious freedom in India in its 2012 and 2013 annual reports.
Gabbard also criticized the United States' decision to deny Modi a visa in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots, in which more than 1,000 people died during an outbreak of violence against the state of Gujarat's Muslim-minority population while Modi was chief minister of that state. Modi was accused of not doing enough to limit the violence by local and international groups.
A Religion News Service article published on Sunday observes that Gabbard has a "unique Hindu lineage," in that her parents followed "an offshoot of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, popularly known as the Hare Krishnas." The offshoot, known as the Science of Identity Foundation, has been described as abusive by some former members.
The Krishnas are thought of by many Hindus "as predominantly white, western or not authentically Hindu," according to Claire Robison, a lecturer of South Asian religions at the University of Pittsburgh.
Earlier this month, Gabbard criticized a fellow member of Hawaii's congressional delegation, Sen. Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii), for "fomenting religious bigotry" against a Catholic judicial nominee after Hirono questioned the nominee's membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization.