BJP unit registers under U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act

By I.S. Saluja

NEW YORK (TIP): The FARA requires “agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a political or quasi political capacity [to]disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related finances”.

The BJP has become the first mainstream political party from India to have named itself as a foreign principal of an organization in the United States, after the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) registered under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) under the U.S. Department of Justice. The registration was done on August 27, 2020, according to the registration statement filed by the OFBJP.

The FARA requires “agents representing the interests of foreign powers in a political or quasi political capacity [to]disclose their relationship with the foreign government and information about related finances”.

BJP’s foreign affairs cell chief Vijay Chauthaiwale confirmed that the registration had taken place. “The OFBJP registered itself under FARA voluntarily,” he said.

Mr. Chauthaiwale said while the BJP and OFBJP had no financial transactions, and “all of the meetings and activities arranged by the OFBJP have been on a volunteer basis”, it was felt that it would be better to register under FARA and that the OFBJP had also consulted lawyers.

Under activities and services, the OFBJP says that it “primarily engages in support of the Principal (BJP) on its own initiative and receives no compensation for its efforts. Registrant does engage in regular communication with officials of the BJP and from time to time acts under the direction or at the request of BJP officials when planning events or distributing materials with the U.S..”

Following the registration, the OFBJP will have to declare any meetings with U.S. legislators, organization of events and funding from U.S. groups. It will also not be possible for OFBJP members to use organizational help during the U.S. elections as it would then be seen as foreign interference. Mr. Chauthaiwale in fact wrote to the OFBJP last month that this separation should be followed strictly.

Most other entities from India registered under this Act are legal, lobby or public relations firms engaged by the Indian Embassy or the tourism department. An unknown political party from India, (Democratic Party of India) and a TV channel are also registered. Pakistan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (N) as well as Bangaldesh’s opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are some of the other political parties from the South Asian neighborhood with FARA registration.

While Mr. Chauthaiwale did not comment on what were the triggers in this voluntary registration under FARA when the Act has been around since 1938, sources says that in April this year the U.S. department of Justice had announced that it would conduct a FARA enforcement drive with wider scrutiny of all consultants and organizations and sent a number of “deficiency notices”, asking suspected foreign agents to register or stop activity on behalf of foreign entities.

The BJP has denied that they received any such notice. The DoJ also published for the first time the names of more than a dozen entities who had been made to register or stop activity on behalf of the foreign entities, along with the names of more than a dozen entities who had been made to register between 2017-19.

OFBJP , riven with internal divisions and dissensions , according to documents available with The Indian Panorama, was under investigation by law enforcement.  The recent September 1 “resignation” of one of the longest serving presidents of  OFBJP Krishna Reddy Anugula is being seen as a victory for the dissenters in the organization who have been demanding adherence to the constitution which requires election of the officers of the organization.

The Indian Panorama had received complaints from OFBJP members from across the US that the organization was being run by a coterie,  and all democratic norms were  thrown to the winds. We had then , on November 7, 2019 sent an email to OFBJP President Reddy asking for his comments on  the reports received with regard to working of the organization. Here is the email.

“On Thu, Nov 7, 2019 at 7:58 AM Indrajit Saluja <[email protected]> wrote:

Dear Mr. Reddy,

I am personally familiar with many of OFBP  officials and have worked with them. Late Suresh Jani was one such person. I am also aware of the tussle for power in OFBJP- something which is part of politics in all organizations. The organization has been functional, as it is today, despite all differences and internal strife.

But of late, many have come to criticize the leadership. One, the democratic principles governing the organization have been thrown to winds. Elections are not held according to rules. It is the whim of Mr. Reddy that guides the selection and appointment of officials. On top of it is the allegation which cannot be overlooked -that finances have not been audited for years together which is a serious violation of law..

I thought I could check with you the veracity of these two allegations against you before going public in The Indian Panorama.

I will expect your comments in the next 10 days.

Please do not hesitate if you have a question.

Best regards.

Prof. Indrajit S. Saluja”

And, given below is the reply from Mr. Reddy.

“Krishna Reddy Anugula <[email protected]>

Nov 12, 2019, 10:59 AM

to me, Adapa, Vijay

Dear Shri Indrajit Saluja ji,

Namaskar.

First of all, I would like to clarify that OFBJP-USA has been working as a unified and coherent organization and has been functioning as per its constitution and well-established procedures.

Regarding the financials, we always consult our CPA and follow the IRS guidelines. We were told by our CPA that we do not need an independent audit as OFBJP revenues have been below the required limit. We have been adhering to all rules and regulations. Also, we have been publishing our accounting and balance sheets to our National Council members for many years.

I was elected in 2016 by the National Council members with 70% majority as per the laid-out rules and procedures. Every vote, procedures, and communications are in the archived records. As per the OFBJP constitution, the President appoints the office bearers, chapter coordinators, and the functional committees. So, I as the president constituted several functional committees and appointed suitable conveners and coordinators in consultation with my Vice President, General Secretaries, and Chapter coordinators as enshrined in the constitution. I always took collective and transparent decisions while discussing it with my team.

Regards,

Krishna Reddy”

Though the organization has now registered  under FARA, the disunity and dissensions stay. OFBJP vice president  Adapa Prasad, who took over as the working president after Reddy’s resignation appears to be a stop gap arrangement. OFBJP constitution , if not amended, requires election of a president. And, as we understand from information and documents available with us , OFBJP needs a surgical strike to restore its health. The cronies of the disgraced president Reddy will have to sit out and chill, and those committed OFBJP workers sidelined till now will have to be given the deserved responsibilities.

Moreover, OFBJP has been known to be deeply involved in the US elections, particularly, of  the President. The  instructions from BJP are very much clear: Help elect Trump who at Howdy Modi rally in Houston on September 22,2019 was endorsed  by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi (BJP)  in the presence of 50,000 Indian Americans . PM Modi had enthusiastically  shouted  the slogan “Abki bar Trump Sarkar” which means “Next it is  Trump government (administration)”. Whether or not this endorsement is a violation of US laws , it is for law enforcement to decide. But going forward, whether or not OFBJP can continue to go forward with the stated agenda of its parent organization in India, the BJP to campaign as an organization for Trump , and for the candidates of BJP’s choice, remains an issue worth consideration of all concerned. 

(With inputs from Nistula Hebber and Suhasini Haidar / The Hindu)

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