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How a fake Hindu nation duped 3 B.C. cities

Three mayors from across B.C. proclaimed July 3, 2023, as “Guru Purnima Day” at the request of the United States of Kailasa. 

It would have been an honest effort by the cities of Surrey, Victoria and Nanaimo to celebrate a Hindu festival focused on offering respect to spiritual and academic gurus. 

The only problem — Kailasa isn’t a real place. 

Kailasa is a self-proclaimed “great cosmic borderless nation,” and its founder is a self-styled Hindu swami, Nithyananda, who, according to the proclamations signed by three mayors, is the “Supreme Pontiff of Hinduism” and “head of 21 ancient indigenous Kingdoms of Hinduism.”

He is also wanted in India since leaving in 2019 after being accused in several cases, including rape and sexual assault. 

Nithyananda, who claims to be the living embodiment of the Hindu god Shiva, has publicly denied the allegations against him.

CBC News contacted Kailasa for comment but did not receive a reply by deadline.

Since Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke signed the proclamation in June 2023, the City of Surrey has rescinded it.

Surrey’s corporate services told CBC News in a statement that it “was signed in error and is not supported by Mayor Locke.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog declined an interview with CBC News but said in a statement that “like Surrey, we didn’t pay close attention, and this one slipped by much to everyone’s embarrassment. A lesson learned.”

Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto was not available for comment. 

An ongoing scheme

This is not the first time a made-up nation has deceived elected officials into signing official documents and decrees in their support. 

In November 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed a letter supporting Kailasa’s Hindu Heritage Month celebration.

In March 2023, the city of Newark, New Jersey, was tricked into accepting a “sister city” partnership with the fictional nation, which the city council rescinded just six days later. 

A woman dressed in Indian attire is presenting a gift to a man in a suit.
Newark mayor Ras Baraka, right, is seen holding a gift from a representative of the purported United States of Kailasa in March 2023. (Kailasa website)

In February 2023, Kailasa’s representatives spoke at two meetings at a United Nations conference in Geneva. The first one being a discussion on equal female representation in decision-making systems, organized by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the second one, on the topic of sustainable development, hosted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

According to a statement sent by the United Nations to CBC News, the general discussions are public meetings open to anyone who is interested though the statements made by representatives of the United States of Kailasa would not be included in the official reports as they were “irrelevant to the topic of the general discussion” and were “tangential to the topic at hand.”

The list goes on. 

According to Kailasa’s website, some 30 U.S. cities have signed some sort of “certificates of recognition” with the imaginary land. 

A bid for legitimacy

Stewart Prest, a lecturer in political science at Simon Fraser University, says the representatives of Kailasa are trying to use their official letters of recognition to apply a veneer of validation to their organization. 

A man in an open-collar blue cotton shirt stands in front of cherry blossoms in a park.
Stewart Prest, a lecturer in political science at Simon Fraser University, says legitimacy is a resource, and politicians need to be more careful before doling it out when signing these proclamations. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

“The pursuit of legitimacy is part of a much larger campaign to convince the world that this organization is legitimate and normal when it is perhaps anything but,” said Prest. 

Prest says it could sound like a funny prank at first glance, but once you look into the history of the organization, it takes on a darker tone and begs an important question about how these proclamations are signed. 

“Legitimacy is a resource, and if someone who is undeserving of it is using this tactic to drum up the appearance of legitimacy, then that really makes it clear that politicians and city governments have to be more careful in doing a little more care and due diligence.”

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