Who is Tulsi Gabbard and why is she suddenly interested in Bangladesh?
Gabbard Has Been Linked To BJP/RSS For A Long Time Now. This Dates Back To 2011, Even Before She Became US Congresswomen And BJP Rose To Such Power In Indian Politics
Former US congresswomen and US Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard took to Twitter on Friday and posted a video where she raised concerns, of all things, about the plight "Hindu minorities in Bangladesh."
According to Gabbard, Hindus were facing religious persecution in Bangladesh and it was a continuation of the persecution carried out by the Pakistan Army in 1971.
"The height of this persecution began 50 years ago, when the Pakistani army systematically murdered, raped and drove from their homes, millions of Bengali Hindus because of their religion and ethnicity. March 25th, 1971 was the beginning of the systematic targeting of Hindus in Bangladesh by the Pakistani military."
That only Hindu minorities faced persecution in the nine-months long liberation war of Bangladesh is certainly a gross misrepresentation of the facts.
Tulsi then goes on to link this persecution to present day Bangladesh.
"The Islamist persecution of Hindus and other religious minorities in Bangladesh didn't end with Bangladesh's independence. That campaign continues to this day with horrific targeted attacks, murders, homes being burned down and families who continue to be forced to flee. In the early 1900s Hindus made up roughly 33% of the Bangladesh population. Because of this persistent Islamist campaign targeting Hindus, just 8% of Bangladesh's population are Hindus today," she said.
The release of the video interestingly comes only days after Islamists groups in Bangladesh took to the streets to protest the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the creation of Bangladesh.
During Modi's highly contentious visit, there were frequent clashes, and 17 member of the Islamist group Hefazat-e-Islam died.
Unsurprisingly, Tulsi had something to say about the recent violence as well.
"Just a few days ago in Bangladesh, hundreds of hard-line Islamist extremists attacked Hindu temples, destroyed a train, set fire to government buildings, the press club and the public buses, leaving dead and injured behind."
While the video has not necessarily garnered a lot of attention as yet, it however deserves some real introspection, given that Gabbard is a US politician of some repute. The timing of the video – when Islamist groups and law enforcement in Bangladesh are at loggerheads – make it all the more interesting.
So how did Gabbard – with no known connection to Bangladesh – suddenly become so 'well-informed' about Bangladesh?
Another interesting aspect of the whole incident is that the video was first reported on by one of India's leading news agencies Asian Network (ANI). Last year, the EU DisinfoLab accused ANI of being part of a massive propaganda and fake news network that is used to spread misinformation around the world, primarily serving the interests of the Indian government. The DisinfoLab also uncovered the involvement of a number of lower tier European Union Members of Parliament in spreading such propaganda.
Tulsi's video and its subsequent reporting bears an eerie resemblance to DisinfoLab's description of how the network operates.
So who is Tulsi Gabbard?
Former Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii served the US Congress from 2012 to 2020, becoming the first Hindu member of Congress. She is not of Indian origin but of a descendent of American Samoa. However, she practises Hinduism.
In early 2019, she sought democratic nomination for the US presidential election of 2020. But failing to garner much support, she withdrew her name from aspirant Democrat candidates and eventually endorsed Joe Biden.
Throughout her campaign for the Democratic nomination she barely managed to get 2% support in national polls, but interestingly she ranked third in terms of news coverage.
Although never able to gain traction in national and state polls, her popularity in the media comes from her controversial actions such as supporting Russia's Putin, Indian's far-rightwing Hindu nationalists, and receiving occasional praise from them.
Ties to RSS/BJP
In October 2019, an American media watch group named Fairness and Accuracy (Fair) scoffed off the Russia allegations against her saying it was a "silly accusation". The report wrote: "There is no evidence that Gabbard… is any kind of Russian agent". However, the report pointed to a graver issue. According to Fair, this accusation was a diversion from "the reality that Gabbard's most troubling attribute is her documented connection to the far-right Hindu nationalist, or Hindutva, movement known as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of India's ruling BJP party."
Gabbard has been linked to BJP/RSS for a long time now. This dates back to 2011, even before she became US congresswomen and BJP rose to such power in Indian politics.
FAIR reported, Gabbard has "received crucial financial support from the Indian-American far right." Her funding from RSS-affiliated donors can be traced back to before she was first elected in November 2012. In 2013, approximately 21 percent of her donations came from members and executives of Hindutva groups — rising to approximately 24 percent in her second year in office.
In an investigative report for India's Caravan Magazine, Pieter Friedrich wrote about how "How the American Sangh Parivar(RSS) built Tulsi Gabbard from the scratch".
This entails a symbiotic relationship. The Sangh Parivar has been long employed in foreign countries to garner support for its policies in India. Both Gabbard and Modi owe much of their achievement from the consistent support of RSS's foreign offices.
Gabbard even supported and justified the Article Revocation in Kashmir. When asked about it in a campaign rally she: "It's complex". She also diverted the question by referring to the 1990 event when Pandits of Kashmir left the region en masse.
Her rhetoric directly mirrored that of India's right-wing which, as journalist Anish Gawande explained, increasingly adopts the argument that "Article 370 was removed to protect minorities." Her positions on controversial policies taken by the BJP government resemble almost exactly the ideological positions of the Sangh Parivar.
From the time Modi became the PM of India and up to the "Howdy Modi" event in Texas in 2019, Gabbard met with Modi at least five times.
Association with rightwing groups
Her political position is unorthodox and somewhat peculiar. "Our Democratic Party, unfortunately, is not the party that is of, by and for the people," she is quoted as saying during campaigns and debates.
Her regular breaking off with Democrat establishment ideas has made her more famous in the Republican/conservative spectrum of US politics, rather than her own party.
The likes of Steve Bannon, former US President Donald Trump's chief strategist, and Richard B. Spencer, the white nationalist leader, have praised her in the past. Her foreign policy stands are often problematic, as are her associations with authoritarian leaders like Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.