New York, March 3 (IANS) Having been duped, a US city has scrapped a sister-city agreement with the fictional nation of “Kailasa” that the fugitive godman Nithyananda’s outfit claimed was recognition by Washington.
“Based on deception, the (sister-city) ceremony was groundless and void,” Newark Press Secretary Susan Garofalo said in a message to IANS on Wednesday.
“As soon as we learned about the circumstances surrounding Kailasa, the City of Newark immediately took action and rescinded the sister-city agreement on January 18,” she added.
Despite Newark revoking the agreement, the make-believe “government of Kailasa” continues to post it on its website with the claim, “The United States of America recognizes the United States of Kailasa (USK) and signs a bilateral agreement.”
The Newark caper illustrates how easy it is for groups to manipulate municipal and state bodies taking advantage of their lack of international sophistication to unwittingly make them appear to confer legitimacy on their causes, even when they are at odds with official US positions.
“USK’s” Newark effort was a part of the disinformation campaign claiming legitimacy for the “nation” set up by Nithyananda, who fled India in 2019 while facing charges of rape and abduction.
Last month, two members of “USK made an appearance at a meeting of a United Nations panel in Geneva when the session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) on sustainable development opened up for questions and comments from the audience.
One of them injected their claims that Nithyananda was being “persecuted” into her comments.
They then created the false impression on social media that “USK” was recognised by the UN.
In January when a UN panel in Geneva asked for comments on the sexual exploitation of children for a report, USK sent in comments that the panel collated along with those of others.
USK then claimed that their report was an official UN document.
The agreement with Newark was signed on or around January 11 at a ceremony at which Newark’s Mayor Ras Baraka and other city leaders were present.
A picture on the “USK” website showed Baraka signing the since revoked agreement with a woman with a turban and a pendant on her forehead and wearing several necklaces while another similarly dressed woman in their trademark attire looked on.
Council Member Luis Quintana, who made the motion to junk the agreement, said, “We cannot bring Sister-Cities International into an issue where there is controversy.”
“We cannot put ourselves in a situation where we put a sister-cities (agreement with a city) that has no human rights and (is involved) in terms of the issues that are created elsewhere,” he added.
He said, “This oversight cannot happen any longer.”
There have been other instances of cities and states stepping into controversies involving India.
For example, last year, the Connecticut General Assembly influenced by Khalistanis issued a citation “in recognition of the 36th anniversary of the declaration of Sikh independence” while the town of Norwich in the state declared April 29 as the “Sikh Declaration of Independence Day”.
At least six US cities have passed resolutions condemning India’s Citizenship Amendment Act that speeded up citizenship for non-Muslims fleeing persecution to India, while also allowing citizenship under the normal time frame for Muslims.
But in 2021, a Chicago City Council resolution critical of India was defeated.
Speaking afterwards, Mayor Lori Lightfoot set the standards for local bodies wading into international matters.
She questioned whether the aldermen, as council members in the city are known, had adequate information about India, according to The Chicago Tribune.
She added that she wouldn’t “pretend to be an expert” on India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“What I say sitting here as Mayor of Chicago is I’m not going to get ahead of the (President Joe) Biden administration,” Lightfoot said.
With a population of 307,000, Newark is the largest in New Jersey.
Although New Jersey has the third highest number of Asian-Indians in the US and the most by percentage, their population is minuscule in Newark city compared to other areas of the state.