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Overseas Friends of BJP registers as foreign agent in US — what this law means & how it works

Overseas Friends of BJP-USA has registered itself as the official representative of India's ruling party, under the American government's Foreign Agents Registration Act.

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New Delhi: The US affiliate of the BJP, which is known as the Overseas Friends of BJP-USA (OFBJP-USA), recently registered itself as the official representative of India’s ruling party under the American government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

It has become the first affiliate of an Indian political party to have been registered under FARA.

In its filing under FARA, the OFBJP-USA has stated that its objectives include “advocating for welfare social policies, self-reliance, robust economic growth, foreign policy driven by a nationalist agenda and strong national defense for India”.

ThePrint explains what is the Foreign Agents Registration Act and the provisions under it.

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What is FARA

The FARA was enacted in 1938, which requires the registration and disclosure of individuals or entities engaged in political activities on behalf of a foreign principal.

Foreign principals are defined as a foreign government, a foreign political party, any person outside the US (except American citizens who are domiciled within the country), and any entity organised under the laws of a foreign country or having its principal place of business in a foreign nation.

“Disclosure of the required information facilitates evaluation by the government and the American people of the activities of such persons in light of their function as foreign agents,” the Act says.

It is considered a tool to identify foreign influence in the US and address threats to its national security. “The central purpose of FARA is to promote transparency with respect to foreign influence within the United States by ensuring that the United States government and the public know the source of certain information from foreign agents intended to influence American public opinion, policy, and law,” the act further states.

In its registration statement, the OFBJP-USA has also claimed that its objective was to “promote the philosophy of ‘Integral Humanism’ as propounded by Deen Dayal Upadhyaya” and to foster a “cordial relationship between People of Indian Origin and American people, by establishing direct communication channels with local ethnic and national media…”

Background of FARA

In the years prior to World War II, US Congress had conducted several investigations into lobbying and propaganda by foreign nations, specifically by German agents operating in the US.

Upon a recommendation by the 73rd US Congress’ Special Committee on Un-American Activities, the FARA was conceived which then required individuals engaged in “propaganda” on behalf of foreign governments and principals to register with the government and disclose information about their clients, activities, and contract terms.

The Act was amended in 1966 to shift focus from political propagandists to agents representing the economic interests of foreign principals.

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Violation of FARA

FARA states that individuals who represent a foreign principal must file, under oath, a registration statement within 10 days of becoming an agent of that entity.

The registration statement should also include the nature and amount of contributions, income, money or other items of value received from a foreign principal and detailed statement of spending connected with activities for the foreign principal.

The OFBJP-USA will have to declare its meetings with US legislators, organisation of events and funding from American entities. Members of the OFBJP-USA also cannot offer organisational help during the US elections because that would be seen as foreign interference.

The violation of FARA will lead to an imprisonment of up to five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. Certain violations are considered “misdemeanors”, with penalties of imprisonment not more than six months, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both.

Who are Overseas Friends of BJP

The Overseas Friends of BJP is an affiliate of the ruling party, and works in the US and other countries as its support system. It reportedly has branches in over 40 countries.

OFBJP-USA claims to work towards “projecting a positive and correct image of India and its people in the US and foreign media, and correct any distortions in the media’s reporting of current events taking place in India”.

The outfit was among the organisers of the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston, Texas in September 2019.

The website of the organisation gives no information about its leadership. However, its official Twitter handle has recently informed that its president Krishna Reddy A has stepped down and that scientist and consultant Adapa V. Prasad is its current working president.

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