- At a protest held in Sugarland, TX, an independent Indian American voter claims, “Of those who know the seriousness of RSS, the Republican candidate is preferred.”
Two dozen or so protestors, masked and chanting “no more RSS,” rallied outside the Sugarland, Texas town hall for two hours, on Saturday, October 24, 2020. Several protestors hoisted placards reading: “Vote against Sri Kulkarni due to his ties to HSS, RSS, and BJP,” along with chants of “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA” that echoed through the town square.
There have been allegations that Texas congressional candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni’s campaign has been supported by U.S. affiliates of the Indian paramilitary organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
41-year-old Sri Preston Kulkarni is running for House of Representatives from one of the most racially diverse Congressional districts in the U.S. — 22nd district in Texas. According to the census data, about 64 percent of the total population is White, 25 per cent are Hispanic or Latin, 17 per cent are Asian, and about 12 per cent are Black.
Kulkarni, a former diplomat and Harvard University alumnus, will be up against Republican candidate Sheriff Troy Nehls and, if elected, will be the first Hindu representative in the U.S. Congress from Texas.
According to journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs, Peter Freidrich, Kulkarni denied any knowledge of RSS involvement in his campaign stating, “I didn’t know about all this, like all this RSS stuff.”
However, according to Friedrich’s article, affiliates of the RSS in the U.S.– like the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh USA (HSS-USA), have asserted that they provided him with funding “to get his campaign off the ground” during his first race in 2018. Kulkarni also praised HSS-USA Vice President Ramesh Bhutada as being “like a father to me on this campaign” at his victory party in May 2018 and said “his campaign literally could not have happened” without Bhutada’s help.
Jessy Skaria, one of the protestors said on her Facebook page, “Whether he (Kulkarni) wins or loses, I am happy to be spreading awareness among the international society about the dangers of this most inhuman and violent organization, RSS, so that they cannot sneak into civilized societies under cover of Gandhi, Ahimsa, Hinduism or India – none of which they represent. Their mask is well and truly torn off, the blood stain, they are showing very clearly. They know it and they resent it,” adding, “it was well worth the effort.”
“He’s lying about his connection to RSS,” one protestor told the media, as reported by Friedrich. “Do you want a fascist organization to be controlling a Congressman?”
Kulkarni is the nephew of the late Pramod Mahajan, a senior leader in the RSS as well as its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is currently India’s ruling party.
Nag Jayaraman, another protestor at the event says, “Of those who know RSS among Hindu Indian Americans and of those who are openly against them are among the minimum. Non-Hindu Americans are overwhelmingly against RSS. Around the U.S., many liberals and those aware of RSS are alarmed…yet politically, it’s far from a widespread movement.”
Clarifying further, Jayaram says, “Non-Hindu Indian Americans are totally alarmed by RSS taking over Hindu American and Indian American identity in every spere of diaspora life, creating division among Indian Americans and various regional associations. Overt attempts of RSS in building presence in U.S. politics is of grave concern to Indian Americans who are already concerned about what’s happening in India.”
“For this historic election the resistance is divided. Liberals tend to lean democrat, unless they know of the gravity of the connections between Sri (Kulkarni) and RSS…their resistance is muted. But there are many moderate Democrats of all races getting repulsed by Sri’s RSS connections and dubious claims of foreign service,” Jayaraman adds.
Considering himself an independent, Jayaraman says this passive attitude was a reason he joined the protest. “Of those who know the seriousness of RSS, the Republican candidate is preferred.
Regardless of what happens in this election, Jayaraman points out that RSS is getting attention adding “Let’s just say, between 2018 and now, Sri is not gaining new support from non-Hindus; non loyal Democrats. Moderate voters, who tend to look up candidates, will run into RSS. If Sri wins despite all this, RSS would be under scrutiny —through local Republicans as that’s one way the seat can be reversed. If Sri loses, I’d say it’s likely because of anti-RSS messaging that’s already out prominently.”
Jayaraman continues, “As and when RSS gets exposed to the American public, there are bound to be consequences to the image of Indian Americans in general and Hindu Americans in particular.”
Kulkarni was born in 1978 in the state of Louisiana, nine years after his family immigrated to the U.S. They later moved to Houston, Texas, where he grew up. His father, Venkatesh Kulkarni was an Indian novelist and academic, while his mother Margaret Preston Kulkarni is originally from West Virginia.
Margaret is also the descendant of the legendary Sam Houston, an American soldier who in the early 19th century arrived in Texas when it was still part of Mexico and helped it become a part of the U.S.
According to Kulkarni’s campaign website, he dropped out of the University of Texas at the age of 18 after his father was diagnosed with leukemia. After his father’s death, he helped take care of his three siblings.
Kulkarni claims to have personally experienced gun violence, crime, and a broken criminal justice system and has admitted to having been arrested for possessing less than a gram of cocaine when he was a teenager in 1997.
“We should not be stigmatizing our youth for the rest of their lives,” he said in 2018, about the incident.
Kulkarni eventually graduated from college, served as a Senate advisor on issues like defense and national security, and later earned a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University.
After joining the U.S. foreign service in 2003, he carved out a 14-year career in diplomacy that took him to Iraq, Israel, Russia, Taiwan, Jamaica and several other countries. He speaks several languages such as Hebrew, Hindi, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The Ohio State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.