Jaskaran Sandhu: Hudson Institute Report Maligns Sikh Americans In Time For Modi-Biden Meeting

The report is clearly written and designed to be consumed as a policy brief for politicians that otherwise will not be familiar with the deeper nuance and context of Sikh-India relations

Jaskaran Sandhu
September 24, 2021 | 3 min. read | Opinion

As Modi and Biden meet today during the Indian Prime Minister’s trip to America, where conversations regarding defense and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) will be paramount, last week’s release of the Hudson Institute’s questionable report, “Pakistan’s Destabilization Playbook: Khalistan Separatist Activism Within the US”, makes a lot more sense. 

The Hudson Institute is an American think tank that does research on national security and foreign policy.

Its 2020 Board of Trustees included Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a BJP Member of Parliament and a current Minister in Modi’s far-right Hindu nationalist government. He has also previously acted as the National Spokesperson for a party best known for overseeing India’s significant drop in global democratic, liberty, and press freedom rankings. Chandrasekhar is a large donor to the Hudson Institute, giving up to $50,000 in the previous year.  

The report focuses on the alleged activities and activism of Sikh and Kashmiri groups in America. Combining the two, often loosely, in creating a new and bigger bogeyman to villainize. Punjab and Kashmir also happen to be two states in India that do not have a Hindu majority population and have consistent grievances with the central Indian government’s heavy-handedness. The report primarily focuses on the threat Pakistan and China play in the region and how all of that allegedly intersects with the two above-mentioned groups. 

The argument goes that if the U.S. does not investigate and crackdown on local Sikh and Kashmiri activism, it could “distract Washington and New Delhi from strengthening the Quad (Australia, India, Japan, US) partnership” to the benefit of China and other adversaries. 

The report, however, does not spend much time at all in covering India’s history of committing genocide, ongoing human rights abuse against minority groups, or its worrisome rapid slide to autocracy and Hindutva extremism. Nor does it flag any meaningful concerns with the quality or sincerity of India’s bad faith intelligence-gathering, something made more abundantly clear in light of the #WestMidland3 debacle. 

In the introduction of their report, the Hudson Institute does not shy away from the fact that it is inspired in part by Terry Milewski’s much-derided and ridiculed MacDonald Laurier Institute report on a similar topic. A report which was aggressively promoted by Indian consulates and government actors in what appeared to be a coordinated marketing campaign by India. 

Much like Milewski’s work, the Hudson Institute’s paper adopts the kind of questionable reference structure, conjecture, and innuendo that resulted in over 50 Sikh-related scholars denouncing haphazard writings that malign the legitimate activism of oppressed minority groups under the pretext of seemingly academic rigor and process. For example,  claiming that there needs to be greater monitoring of supposed acts of recent violence by Khalistani activists in America, however providing no real examples of said violence - referencing instead peaceful protests led by Sikhs that share similar messaging to other progressive movements like Black Lives Matters.

The Indian strategy has always been clear to those that have watched the space closely. 

In order to secure its geopolitical goals, India has never shied away from falsely shaping narratives around Sikh activism on legitimate grievances with state violence in order to achieve its own foreign affair objectives. In this case, using the Khalistani (and/or Kashmiri) bogeyman to push America into a more hawkish position against Pakistan and China.

The cost, of course, is the reputations of Sikhs and our right to political protest and organizing - whether around the topics of human rights in India, justice for the 1984 Sikh Genocide, or self-determination in the face of state oppression (i.e. Khalistan).

The Hudson Institute report is clearly written and designed to be consumed as a policy brief for politicians that otherwise will not be familiar with the deeper nuance and context of Sikh-India relations. What better opportunity to put such a problematic narrative in front of American politicians than Modi’s first trip during the Biden administration. A trip where dialogue around security will dominate headlines and meetings.  


Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Strategist at the public affairs and relations agency State Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_

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