- Months of unexplained inactivity of the organization and the sudden resignation of its president added fuel to the social media speculation.
If messages floating around on social media are to be believed, it would seem that the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP-USA), is in trouble. Since early in the day on Sept. 9, Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook messages referenced an alleged investigation of the OFBJP-USA by the U.S. Department of Justice. The speculation has been further fueled by the the sudden resignation of OFBJP-USA president Krishna Reddy Anugula following the organization’s apparent suspension of all its activities over the past few months.
“After serving 4 years as national president of Overseas Friends of BJP USA, I am stepping down effective September 1st,” Reddy wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 30. “It has been an amazing experience working with thousands of volunteers for the last 4 years.”
OFBJP vice president, Adapa Prasad, who took over as the working president after Reddy’s resignation, told American Kahani that the rumors are baseless. As an explanation for the rumors of “investigation,” he said the organization has voluntarily registered with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) with the Department of Justice, on Aug. 28.
“OFBJP was not under investigation,” he emphasized. “We learned about FARA regulation very recently and upon review of the regulation, we thought it best to register voluntarily,” he said. According to the DOJ website, “FARA requires certain agents of foreign principals who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”
The FARA registration is mentioned on OFBJP-USA’s Facebook page as well. “Disseminated by Overseas Friends of BJP-USA, a registered foreign agent, on behalf of the Bharatiya Janata Party,” it says. “More information is on file with the Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C.”
American Kahani was unable to verify if a FARA registration was indeed made. No information of a FARA registration or an investigation leading to it is currently available on the State Department, DOJ or FBI website. It is, however, unclear as to why the OFBJP-USA would do a FARA registration now, almost 30 years after it’s establishment in 1991.
Prasad said Reddy has resigned as president due to personal reasons — “We haven’t suspended any of our activities. We are fully functional.” He claimed that the website is under construction, because after the FARA regulation, he said the organization is working on a new look. The OFBJP-USA Facebook page remains operational.
The news about possible problems with the OFBJP-USA began with a WhatsApp message sent by an Indian American community activist, which was circulated among several online groups. “OFBJP USA suspends all activities,” the message read. “PRESIDENT RESIGNS: OFBJP USA National President, Krishna Reddy Anugula (Krish Ramakrishnan) of New Jersey abruptly resigned on September 1, 2020,” the message continued, adding, “Why did Trump do this? Howdy Modi? Namaste Trump?” The message also demanded that President Trump “immediately order investigation on INOC-Indian National Congress USA, and Overseas Friends of DMK INC, New York.”
The post has since been deleted.
Prof. Ashok Swain, an Indian-born academic and professor of conflict at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University in Sweden, tweeted about the discussion on WhatsApp. “Why is Trump’s Dept of Justice doing an investigation of Overseas Friends of BJP in the USA,” the tweet asked. “Why has OFBJP-USA suspended all its activities? Why has OFBJP-USA President resigned?”
In a follow up tweet, Swain wrote: “Since my tweet about what is going on in OFBJP-USA, many journalists have contacted me about more information. I gave you a lead, go and find it out. Please.”
One of the persons who retweeted Swain’s tweet was Pieter Friedrich, who describes himself as an “author, speaker and traveler” on Facebook. “Stunning news as @ofbjp_usa, a major support base 4 India’s Hindu nationalist @BJP4India which mobilized 1000s of Indian-Americans travel India to campaign 4 the party, is reportedly under investigation by @TheJusticeDept & has suspended all activities.
In another tweet he claimed: “#ForeignInterference. News comes from @ashoswai, who reports it’s circulating in internal #OFBJP WhatsApp groups & @ofbjp_usa is desperate to suppress the news. No surprise they want to keep it quiet considering Indian-American #BJP backers were the backbone for Modi’s election in 2019.”
Friedrich, who comes across as a self-styled crusader against the Hindutva forces, has recently written about Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s alleged links with Michigan State Rep. Padma Kuppa and Sri Preston Kulkarni, who is a Democratic candidate running in Texas 22nd Congressional district. Adapa told this correspondent that he spoke with Friedrich after he was alerted to the OFBJP-USA “rumors.” However, Friedrich hasn’t deleted any of his tweets.
Despite Prasad’s claims that OFBJP is functioning as usual, the leadership has been inactive for the past few months. No statements or press releases have been issued and the leadership has stayed away from being quoted in news articles.
In a press release posted on Facebook last month after a gap of nearly three months, the organization noted that “the OFBJP cannot or does not directly or indirectly participate in or engage in any activity on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office in the U.S.”
The press release posted on OFBJP-USA’s Facebook page, names Dev Karlekar of New Jersey, who it says “made a statement on behalf of OFBJP without our authorization or knowledge. It may be his personal opinion,” it adds. “Mr. Karlekar does not speak on behalf of the organization and he is not a position holder of OFBJP.”
On its Facebook page, OFBJP is described as “an organization formed by persons of Indian origin living abroad who are ideologically aligned to India’s political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).”
OFBJP has an estimated 4,000 members in the U.S., and has 18 chapters in 13 states. The organization has played a pivotal role in galvanizing the Indian American community during both elections of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the 2019 elections, OFBJP-USA conducted “Mai bhi Chowkidar” (“Me too Chowkidar”) pledges at “Chai Pe Charcha” events organized across the country. The OFBJP was actively involved in the ‘Howdy, Mody!’ event in Houston, Texas, on Sept. 22, 2019, attended by over 50,000 Indian-Americans at the NRG stadium.
According to its website, OFBJP-USA aims “to work towards projecting a positive and correct image of India and its people in the U.S. and foreign media, and correct any distortions in the media’s reporting of current events taking place in India.” It also works “to promote the philosophy of Integral Humanism,” and “towards strengthening social bonds among Indian Americans, irrespective of region, religion, race, creed and color, and help to generate a feeling of oneness and brotherhood.”
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.