Biden Faces Backlash Over Staffer’s Close Hindu Nationalist Ties

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit on March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is facing growing pressure from civil rights advocates over a top aide with Hindu nationalist ties.

Civil rights activists say Biden staffer Amit Jani, who was hired in September 2019 as the campaign’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders national vote director, is unfit to work with the campaign due to his close association with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

“To hire a supporter and friend of Narendra Modi opens the door to embracing anti-Muslim and Hindu nationalist politics,” reads an open letter published March 6 by Equality Labs, a South Asian American advocacy organization. “Progressive Asian Americans and South Asian Americans cannot stand by a candidate with relationships to fascists, here or abroad.”

An Indian American and a Hindu, Jani also served as the campaign’s Muslim outreach coordinator. He was hired just weeks after India’s revocation of Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.

After Jani’s links to Modi were revealed in media reports, the campaign brought on a former aide to Hillary Clinton to lead engagement with Muslim Americans.

But the campaign would not answer Religion News Service’s repeated requests to clarify whether Jani is still on staff and still involved in Muslim outreach.

Jani’s father, Suresh Jani, was a founder of the Overseas Friends of BJP in the U.S., the New Jersey-based sister organization of India’s ruling party that celebrated Modi’s reelection. The elder Jani and Modi are old friends; when Modi first visited the U.S. in 1993, he stayed for several days at Suresh Jani’s home.

Amit Jani has posted Facebook photos of himself with Modi, including after Modi’s reelection victory and during the “Howdy Modi” event in Texas. Amit Jani’s name also appeared on an event listing in New Jersey last year that celebrated the revocation of Kashmir’s autonomy and listed the BJP’s national general secretary as a speaker. His mother, Deepa Jani, campaigned for Modi’s reelection.

“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been called many things, among them a reformer, visionary, catalyst for a new Indian era, and even a saint,” Amit Jani wrote in a 2014 Huffington Post blog remembering Modi’s visit to his home and comparing Modi’s popularity among Indian American youth to President Barack Obama’s voter base. “Perhaps what has enabled the American people and Indian-American youth to connect with Modi is a sense of the shared values of democracy, between that of the oldest democracy in the world and that of the largest.”

Since August, Modi’s administration has received international condemnation over its crackdown on Kashmir; its passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, which critics call anti-Muslim and which for the first time in Indian history makes religion a criterion for citizenship; and plans for a National Registry of Citizens, which has already put 2 million people at risk of deportation or detention.

The fallout from the legal changes has led to deadly street violence targeting Muslims.

“The Indian government must take swift action to ensure the safety of all of its citizens,” USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava said after the anti-Muslim riots broke out. “Instead, reports are mounting that the Delhi police have not intervened in violent attacks against Muslims, and the government is failing in its duty to protect its citizens. These incidents are even more concerning in the context of efforts within India to target and potentially disenfranchise Muslims across the country, in clear violation of international human rights standards.”

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Source: Religion News Service