Three months ago Chicago businessman Shalabh Kumar found himself facing unwanted scrutiny by the Indian media after reports surfaced that the then-ongoing trip he had organised for several members of the US Congress to travel to Gujarat to meet Chief Minister Narendra Modi had netted Mr. Kumar many thousands of dollars.
Now it appears that BJP president Rajnath Singh is on the verge of being the next cash-cow in sights of Mr. Kumar and his organisation, the National Indian American Public Policy Institute (NIAPPI). Participation in several NIAPPI-backed events during Mr. Singh’s upcoming visit to the US will be monetised at anywhere from $500 to $10,000 per dinner-table seat.
Last week an email went out from NIAPPI organisers to members of the deep-pocketed Indian-American community here inviting them to join fundraising efforts during “Bharat Day” by attending a “groundbreaking and historical” event at the US Capitol in Washington DC. It particularly targeted “potential supporter[s] of Reclaim Bharat Pride and Modi Vision Movement.”
The email, which was sent by Rajesh Gooty of another organising group called India Cause, which incidentally said on Facebook that it hosted Janata Party president Subramaniam Swamy for multiple-ticketed events on June 2 – offered donors tiered seats in the range of $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000.
Each higher tier, the email suggested, would offer correspondingly greater access to celebrity guests at the event, which in addition to Mr. Singh will include House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Congresswoman Cathy Rodgers, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus and former house speaker Newt Gingrich.
Among these conservative leaders at least two are associated with Mr. Kumar’s March-April trip to Mr. Modi’s domain – Ms. Rodgers was one of three representatives in attendance and Mr. Gingrich spoke to Mr. Modi directly via teleconference during the visit.
At the time Mr. Kumar’s trip generated media and public attention partly because NIAPPI charged a similar, tiered overall trip fare to donors, ranging from $3,000 for economy travel to $16,000 for a “seven-star experience.”
Yet questions were also raised after the Congressman and Mr. Gingrich promised Mr. Modi that they would do what they could to get the State Department to revisit its 2005 decision to deny the Chief Minister a visa to enter the US for his alleged association with the 2002 Gujarat riots.
On the question of whether the Congressmen had themselves financed the travel, and whether with US taxpayer money, Mr. Kumar said in a conversation with The Hindu, that the multi-tiered travel options “were on a cost-coverage basis only” and he “categorically” stated that NIAPPI had not paid for the trip.