Why the Democratic Party is bleeding Indian American support

Former diplomat Sri Kulkarni’s campaign for an open U.S. Congress seat representing the Houston area is one of the most watched in the country. Matched up against a conservative county sheriff and President Donald Trump ally, Kulkarni is hoping to carry the largest Asian American populated district in Texas to become the fifth Indian and fifth Hindu American member of Congress.

Kulkarni is uniting a multi-ethnic, multi-religious district, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) sees in Kulkarni a chance at flipping Texas to blue.

But in August, a California based political operative, Pieter Friedrich, took aim at Kulkarni. Too many Houstonian Indian Americans supporting Kulkarni were also supportive of the Bharat’s government, Friedrich alleged. And only a week later, Friedrich leveled a nearly identical attack on Democratic Michigan State House member Padma Kuppa, the first Hindu and Indian American elected to that state’s house.

Friedrich’s rants may have gone unnoticed if not for his recently discovered ties within the California Democratic party. Those ties reach right up to Amar Shergill, chair of the California Democratic Progressive Caucus. Shergill, a lawyer of Indo-Canadian origin, first amplified Friedrich’s work disparaging the first Hindu American elected to the House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), and then, joined Friedrich in going after a senior Hindu director in the Biden presidential campaign, Amit Jani.

Friedrich, Shergill, and their political allies targeted not only KulkarniKuppa and Gabbard (D-HI), but also Indian American Democratic legislators like Ami Bera (D-CA) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). Democratic candidates Jenifer Rajkumar, a New York Assembly candidate, and Rishi Kumar, member of the Saratoga City Council and California congressional candidate were also targeted. Besides Jani, Friedrich also went after another senior Biden Campaign staffer, senior Policy Advisor and former President Obama appointee, Sonal Shah.

The attacks follow a pattern: depict prominent Hindu American donors who assert Hindu identity, call out Hinduphobia, or promote robust U.S.-Bharat relations as “Hindu nationalists,” “Hindu supremacists,” or “Hindu fascists.” Allege dual loyalty. Raise suspicion against all of them, and then intimidate them through reputational harm, even dox them. Only Hindu American candidates supported by these donors are singled out for attack.

Friedrich also accuses Hindu donors of American political campaigns, without evidence, of being guilty of financing Bharatiya political parties, while Shergill goes as far as charging Indian Americans of supporting “rape, torture, murder and oppression” in Bharat if they like the current government there.

The specter of a senior California Democrat teaming with a previously unknown blogger singling out Indian and Hindu American Democratic leaders and donors is turning heads, and DNC headquarters has reason to worry.

The 2020 Asian American Voter Survey shows that Asian Indian support for Biden has dropped to 65% from the 77% that Hillary Clinton enjoyed in 2016, while support for President Donald Trump has almost doubled to nearly 30%. And though a record four Indian American Democratic House of Representatives members are up for reelection, only 63% of Indian American voters support Democratic House candidates, while support for Democratic Senate candidates has sunk to 54%.

Writ large, the same survey shows that the values of the Indian American community on healthcare, immigration, racial justice and economic inequality, are aligned with the ostensible values of the Democratic Party. Yet the party is hemorrhaging the support of that very community.

Friedrich and Shergill’s political alignment seems to be rooted in a shared relationship with a long-time Khalistan-activist from Central Valley, Bhajan Singh Bhinder.

The trio and their South Asian allies have come together and protested against statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Northern California, in which they smear Gandhi as a “bigot,” under the banner of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI). Bhinder co-founded OFMI, Friedrich is alternatingly referred to as an OFMI affiliate and advisor, and Shergill is routinely quoted in OFMI statements.

They’ve testified at the California State Board Education between 2015–2017 denigrating Hindu Dharma as an oppressive construct, and promoting the inclusion of inaccurate and negative stereotypes about Hindu Dharma in California textbooks. These types of stereotypes about Hindu Dharma are behind a steep rise in bullying and hate crimes against Hindu Americans, one survey found.

And they’ve organized demonstrations chanting and holding racist and anti-Hindu hate signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Don’t throw a fit, but cow culture is bullshit” and “We don’t drink pee in the land of the free”(see video stills below), These are religiously-bigoted tropes are often repeated prior to terrorist attacks against Hindu and Bharatiya targets.

Protest organized by OFMI, an activist group in which Mr. Shergill, Friedrich and Bhinder participate, where religiously bigoted, anti-Hindu slogans are often raised.
Pieter Friedrich holding up a bigoted sign at OFMI same protest.

These attacks on Hindu advocacy and mimicry of stereotypical attacks on Hindu Dharma are behind a steep rise in bullying and hate crimes against Hindu Americans, one survey found.

Shergill and Bhinder’s association goes back over a decade. They served as board members of the American Sikh Public Affairs Association and the Sikh Political Action Committee (Sikh PAC), and worked with the Sacramento Valley Charter School. Bhinder has been accused by the US Customs Service of attempting to purchase C-4 plastic explosives, M-16s, AK-47s, grenade and rocket launchers, and Stinger missiles to be sent to Pakistan and routed to support the Khalistan terrorist movement in Bharat— a movement the vast majority of Sikhs worldwide do not support. He also reportedly served as a spokesperson for Sikh Youth of America, a radical organization that glorifies Khalistani terrorist attacks and apparently has ties with the International Sikh Youth Federation, itself a State Department designated terrorist organization under E.O. 13224.

Terrorists associated with the Khalistan movement are responsible for the deadliest terrorist attack in Canadian history (the bombing of Air India Flight 182, in 1985, that killed all 329 on board), and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, are responsible for financing what remains of the violent movement today in the South Asian diaspora.

Neither Shergill nor Friedrich are known to have repudiated nor condemned the activities of their long-time associate, Bhinder.

Shergill publicly refers to Friedrich as a South Asia analyst, but Friedrich holds no professional or academic credential, no university degree, no professional association or title, and no background to qualify as a credible analyst of South Asia.

The source of funding for Friedrich’s anti-Hindu activism is publicly undeclared.

However, Shaik Ubaid, co-founder of the Indian American Muslim Council, which frequently works with OFMI, and past leader of the Islamist leaning Islamic Circle of North America, claims in a recent WhatsApp communication (see below) that “Pieter Friedrich is the research scholar working with us full time,” and that he, along with a “few others” will target six Congressional constituencies where “RSS sponsored candidates are running,” starting with Sri Kulkarni’s 22nd Congressional district in Texas.

True to his WhatsApp missive, Ubaid went on to write that Muslims should vote for Kulkarni’s Republican opponent to teach the Democratic Party a “lesson.” This political myopia is already being condemned by prominent Muslim American voices.

What’s App thread where Shaik Ubaid, co-founder of the Indian American Muslim Council boasts about hiring Pieter Friedrich.

Talk to Indian American voters as to why many Indian Americans are leaving the Democratic party, follow their WhatsApp conversations, and fingers immediately point to these unchecked attacks and recent anti-Bharat activism from the so-called Super Progressive wing of the Democratic party to which Shergill belongs.

When Bharat, in August 2019, ended Kashmir’s “special status” as a measure to bring equal protection to Kashmiris under Indian law and end terrorism and cross-border attacks from Pakistan — an enormously popular move among many Indian Americans — progressive torchbearer Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) delivered a stinging rebuke to Bharat in front of the Islamic Society of North America.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) soon followed, as did Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who even introduced a resolution slamming Bharat that didn’t receive a single co-sponsor. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) performative maligning of a Kashmiri Hindu journalist and victim of ethnic cleansing during a House hearing on Capitol Hill was so egregious that it led to Omar’s ties to radical Islamist charities being exposed.

And progressive city councils in Seattle, St. Paul, Cambridge, and San Francisco spent hours discussing and passing resolutions critical of Bharat after advocacy by Ubaid’s Indian American Muslim Council partnering with Council on American-Islamic Relations.

It remains to be seen if the Democratic Party can prevail upon one of its senior leaders to hold his fire against Hindu American candidates and donors, and repudiate the tactics of Friedrich and Ubaid — who openly calls on Muslims to support Republican opponents against Hindu American Democrats.

While the estimated 1.8 million Indian American voters are a small minority within the electorate, their demographic distribution in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan is significant.

Absent an urgent course correction, validated surveys and spirited Indian American WhatsApp discussion groups converge on one scenario: a pivotal minority kicked out of its natural home may just find refuge across the ideological street.

(This article was first published on the medium.com on 24 September, 2020 and is being reproduced with permission, after minor edits to conform to HinduPost style-guide)


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Repository of articles & studies conducted by Hindu American Foundation (hafsite.org), a non-profit advocacy organization for the Hindu American community.