Ramesh Nagaraj Rao (birth name: Closepet N. Ramesh) did his undergraduate education at St. Joseph's College, Bangalore and received B.A. in Economics, Political Science, and Sociology from the Bangalore University in 1977. He worked as an officer in the State Bank of Mysore, and then taught at the Krishnamurti Foundation’s Valley School for two years. While teaching there, he earned a Post Graduate Diploma in Journalism from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bangalore, and was the winner of the Kulapati Munshi Award for writing.
Rao worked as a copy editor for The Hindu for a year before he left India to pursue graduate studies in the U.S. He moved to the United States in 1985 and studied at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he obtained a MS in Mass Communication in 1987. He then obtained his PhD in Communication from Michigan State University in 1992. From 1991 to 2005 he taught at Truman State University where he became a full tenured professor. In that position he undertook work on the theory of conflict and hostage negotiations. He then joined Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, as professor and chair of the Department of Communication Studies and Theatre from 2006 to 2011.
Rao is a prolific writer, and his essays and op-eds have appeared in a variety of American and Indian newspapers and magazines like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Columbia Daily Tribune, Richmond Times-Dispatch, India Abroad, Rediff on the Net and The Washington Post. He has also contributed essays to The Guardian (London) on Hinduism and spirituality. He currently writes for Patheos, a religion and spirituality website, and for The Pioneer, the oldest English language newspaper published from New Delhi. Between 2005 and 2008 he wrote more than 60 essays for UPI’s religion and spirituality page.
Rao has served on the executive council of the Hindu American Foundation. He has links to Rajiv Malhotra and received grants from his Infinity Foundation. He also has sympathetic connections to the politicians of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India.
Discussing his forthcoming book Secular `Gods' Blame Hindu `Demons' in 2000, Ramesh Rao said his aim was to counter criticism of the Sangh Parivar and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that had been published after the destruction of the Babri Mosque in 1992. He had found a "programmatic and sustained campaign of vilification and demonization" after these events. He defended the RSS and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and said "There is no way that the Christians and Muslims, let alone the Communist Hindu-haters will accept Hindutva. That attempt to convince the followers of the three most deadly ideologies in the world is a wasted effort". Writing to The Japan Times in November 2000 he criticized the paper for parroting "ugly stereotypes as well as maliciously false descriptions" of the RSS. Writing in the India Star in March 2008, Rao criticized the "brood of opinion writers" in the weekly newspaper India Abroad for creating a false image of Hinduism in India.
In 2002 Sabrang Communications and South Asia Citizens Web published The Foreign Exchange of Hate: IDRF and the American Funding of Hindutva, which investigated how funds raised by the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) in the USA were being distributed in India. Ramesh Rao headed a team that issued a counter-report, IDRF - Let the Facts Speak, which denied the implied accusation that tribal activists that had a role in the Gujarat violence were linked to the IDRF funding. Martha Nussbaum has found it strange that Rao and his co-authors spent a lot of space in defending the history and politics of the RSS, which was supposedly unconnected to the IDRF. Much of the book is also devoted to personal attacks on the authors of the Sabrang report, with labels such as "Lies, More Lies and Noting But Lies," as well as their caricature as leftist intellectuals with Pakistani connections. Much of Rao's writings are found by Nussbaum to contain digressions and tirades that have little to do with the subject instead of calmly presenting information that allow the readers to judge for themselves.
Ramesh Rao co-edited Gujarat after Godhra - Real Violence, Selective Outrage (2003) with Koenraad Elst. This book includes a critique of a Human Rights Watch report that claimed complicity of the state in the 2002 Gujarat communal violence, authored by Arvind Bahl.