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Biden campaign urged to remove 'Modi supporter' as Muslim outreach coordinator

Middle East Eye understands that Joe Biden's presidential campaign is desperate to find new outreach coordinator to help secure Muslim vote
Amit Jani, Biden's current Muslim outreach coordinator, with India's PM Narendra Modi in February 2019 (Facebook)
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Pressure is mounting on Joe Biden's presidential campaign to replace its Muslim outreach manager following revelations he has strong connections with India's right-wing Hindu government.

Sources have told Middle East Eye that the Biden campaign is scrambling to find a replacement for Amit Jani, as the number of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination has been whittled down to two.

Several Muslim-American political advisers have been approached to help find a new candidate to secure the American Muslim vote amid concerns that Jani's continued presence will alienate Muslims from backing Biden's White House bid, the sources said.

Having fascist surrogates like Jani in such a role suffocates Muslim voices.

- Sana Qutubuddin, Alliance for Justice and Accountability

On Friday, more than 30 prominent academics, activists and organisations signed a letter calling for Biden to fire Jani. 

"It is unacceptable for the AAPI Outreach Coordinator of a Presidential candidate to have ties with Hindu fascists, for it jeopardises his relationships with the entire AAPI community," read the letter, signed by academics and activists including Cornel West, Steven Salaita and Sanaa Abrar, referring to Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

"The AAPI community has been weathering attacks on our religious freedom, immigration rights, xenophobia, and increased hate crimes. Biden should be hiring an AAPI Coordinator that can speak to all of our needs, not someone in bed with a violent Hindu nationalist movement."

Neither Amit Jani nor the Biden press team campaign replied to multiple requests for comment.

Amit Jani
Amit Jani, right, after Narenda Modi's re-election victory in May 2019 [Facebook]

Jani's family has a relationship stretching back decades with India's right-wing BJP government, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in particular.

According to news reports, Jani's late father, Suresh, come from the same village as Modi, and they originally met at a meeting organised by the Hindu paramilitary organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). 

Suresh later became one of the founders of Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) in the United States, and the family hosted Modi at their home in New Jersey in 1993.

Following the re-election of Modi, Jani posted images on Facebook celebrating the BJP's victory.

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After India revoked Kashmir's semi-autonomy in August 2019, triggering a security lockdown leaving millions under a continued military occupation, Jani helped organise an event that "celebrated" the Indian government's move. 

Since September, when Axios reported that Jani had joined the Biden team as the Asian-American Pacific Islander national vote director, there had been concern among some Democrats over his appointment.

Then in Februrary, when Muslim Matters revealed that Jani had also been appointed Biden's Muslim outreach coordinator, pushback began.

After the results of Super Tuesday, which threw Biden into pole position in the race for Democratic party's presidential nomination, sources told MEE that a need for Biden's campaign to address Jani's role had become paramount.

"Having fascist surrogates like Jani in such a role suffocates Muslim voices," said Sana Qutubuddin, an activist with the Alliance for Justice and Accountability, an umbrella group of progressive organisations in the US. 

"There should be no space for those who normalise Modi," Qutubuddin told MEE.

'Lack of empathy towards Muslim suffering'

With Anti-Muslim sentiment simmering in India, competing petitions were published on Change.org earlier this week, one urging Biden to fire him and the other in support of Jani.

Each petition had amassed about 3,000 signatures by Friday.

Ghazala Salam, president and co-founder of the American Muslim Caucus, told MEE that the hiring of Jani by Biden was "further evidence of how some campaigns continue to tokenize American Muslims".

"Firstly, having an Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) person do outreach to the Muslim community implies that American Muslims are AAPI, which is absolutely not true.

"Secondly, the fact that the campaign has not dismissed this person shows the lack of empathy they have towards the pain and suffering of Muslims, not just here in America, but globally," Salam said.

Even though Muslims make up little more than one percent of the population, their relevance in US politics is growing, and the visibility of Muslims in the Sanders' campaign has been one of the talking points of this election race.

Not only did he appoint a Muslim American as his campaign manager, as well as hiring a dedicated Muslim outreach coordinator early on, but his campaign has focused on several issues held dear by Muslim-Americans, including Islamophobia, income inequality and foreign policy. 

Both the Muslim Caucus of America and the Muslim political action committee Emgage have endorsed Sanders, emphasising the appeal of his message.