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Sunday, 9 November 2008

Yet another controversial Obama appointment. Sonal Shah, the adviser picked up by Obama for his transition team, is known for her links to VHP

Yet another controversial Obama appointment

* Sonal Shah has been part of group believed to have been involved in massacre of Muslims in Gujarat and carrying out sustained campaign against Indian Christians in Orissa

By Khalid Hasan

WASHINGTON: Another of President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments has been greeted with disbelief by Pakistani-Americans and liberal members of the Indian community because Sonal Shah, the adviser picked up by Obama for his transition team, is known for her links to communal Hindu organisations.

Vishwa Hari Parishad (VHP) and its student wing Bajrang Dal are believed to have been involved in the massacre of over 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat and for the last three months have been carrying out a sustained campaign against Indian Christians in Orissa.

Sonal Shah has been the national coordinator for VHP-America and her father has been associated with the Overseas Friends of the BJP. Further, her organisation IndiCorps works with a VHP-sponsored initiative called the Ekal Vidyalayas – or single-teacher schools with a curriculum steeped in instilling hatred against non-Hindu religious minorities. Ekal Vidyalayas have played a key role in anti-minority violence in the states of Orissa and Madhya Pradesh. IndiCorps founders also have a close relationship with controversial Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

According to Vijay Prashad, Chairman of South Asian history and director of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, Sonal Shah’s Houston-based parents were “not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj, but also in the far more cruel organisations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Overseas Friends of the BJP and the Ekal Vidyalaya. Shah’s parents, Ramesh and Kokila, not only work as volunteers for these outfits, but they also held positions of authority in them. Their daughter was not far behind. She was an active member of the VHPA, the US branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organisation should ‘inculcate a fear psychosis among (India’s) Muslim community.’ This was Shah’s boss. Till 2001, Shah was the National Coordinator of the VHPA.” In 2004, the hard Right government in Gujarat honoured Shah with the Pride of Gujarat (Gujarat Garima) award.”


Anonymous said...

To all the American Muslims who voted for Obama, you suck! Rahm Emanuel and Sonal Shah, 2 individuals committed to the extermination of Muslims, will be running the show. Just like when all the stupid Muslims voted for Bush in 2000, the same stupid Muslims voted for Obama in 2008. The should've supported people like Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Bob Barr, or Cynthia McKinney!

Kohl said...

I don't think you should take Vijay Prashad's word for the whole truth. You might like to check out the Wikipedia page for Indicorps (http://tinyurl.com/6p5kl6), the organization the Shah siblings founded, as well as the site for the organization itself (http://tinyurl.com/6rczrp). I worked with Indicorps to benefit Muslim populations in the slum areas of Delhi in 2005-6, and can attest to Sonal Shah's character.

Sima said...

Having personally known Sonal for the last 6 years, and her family for the last 10+ years – I was not at all surprised to learn that she had been appointed the esteemed honor to be a member of President-elect Obama’s transition team. She has always sought to not only serve the community, whether on a large scale through her service under the Clinton administration or on a grassroots level in India through Indicorps, but also empower others to do the same. She shares Obama’s value of grassroots community involvement, and she has always encouraged me to engage and work with the local community with Indians and non-Indians alike. This most recently culminated in my involvement in the Obama election – where, like many others, I phonebanked and canvassed for the campaign. She inspired a level of civic involvement that I had never had before, by helping to convert my passion into action. In this way, she is truly a changemaker – as she sheds light on people’s talents and cultivates community action, by being a leader and guide. Her rational compassion allows her to serve with her intellect and heart, whether in some far off village in Africa or India, or helping a friend during a difficult period in her life.

If you knew Sonal, you would know that she cares deeply about bringing South Asians together through service – from all regions and religions. You would know that she is steadfast and committed to serving higher ideals beyond her own needs. You would know that although she’s held such lofty positions at Google.org and Goldman Sachs, that she is incredibly down to earth and transparent. And you would know that she truly loves America – and is dedicated to the type of change that not only Barack Obama envisions, but that we all yearn for.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that Vijay Prashad writes on his own blog but doesn't allow comments on his commentary. I mean I just think that he's playing the card of "understanding" that this is not guilt by association yet in his article he's raising the question of is it.

Give us some hard truth that she is a fundamentalist extremist in disguise, and has acted on that agenda of hers that you obviously are inquiring so innocently about, or you really sir are just singing the same tune that Mcain and Palin tried with Rev. Wright.

Why does this brown-on-brown shit always happen. I swear we got one person who's in the most optimistic and change oriented administration and all indians can do is say "why not me" and "she is not good" and "oh she's evil" to define her success.

Raise up fool. No one cares any more about smear or attacking people, we believe in change and the people of spoken. If you care about India so much do something about it, don't just write.


Abdul said...

Kohl, Sima and anonymous, Thanks for providing the other side of the picture. If you would like to contribute by writing a small piece to this blog, you are most welcome. Abdul

-rish said...

An open challenge to Sonal’s critics: Can you find someone who actually knows her and has spent time with her to corroborate your caricature of her as an intolerant right-wing extremist?? I would wager my life on the fact that you cannot even come close. Her real character is such a far departure from your claims it is laughable. She has inspired not just me but an entire generation of youth, who are now galvanized across communities in India and the world over into community service. She has inspired us to look beyond race, or class or religion, and engage not just with those we agree with, but also those we disagree with, because it is the only way to bring people together. For a more complete response please read: www.rishsanghvi.blogspot.com

Alvir said...

I was a volunteer with Indicorps some time ago for a year, and had the opportunity to work with rural youth in a village a few hours away from Udaipur in Rajasthan. The youth program focused on getting students from various economic and social backgrounds to participate in activities together. The program involved organizing a secondary school that taught varied subjects (Geography, General Knowledge, Hindi, English, Health/Sanitation (etc). Among the many other activities the youth program worked on were the creation of a football team that had tournaments and matches against other villages, the organization of community plays and events, girls empowerment workshops, health awareness workshops and field trips to the Udaipur.

My experience with Indicorps is nothing but positive. It gave me the opportunity to leave the America I was brought up in, and to experience India in a way that was not like a family visit or a touristy trip. I have both the Shahs and Indicorps to thank for this experience. That being said, since my time with Indicorps, I have never been pushed to support/believe ANY ideology by the Shahs or anyone associated with them. They did however wholeheartedly support the value of service, simple living and a united India.

I want to congratulate Sonal on her recent appointment to Obama's Transition Team. I find it unfortunate that there are multiple unfounded attacks on her. It seems that the internet not only has the potential of spreading awareness, it also provides people with the opportunity to have their own personal McCarthy era option switch. Especially in the public sphere accusations can be enough. I hope people are analytical to see beyond the juicy gossip of the day and question the sources of what they read.

Bhavana said...

I was an Indicorps fellow from August 2007 through August 2008. My project was in a small tribal community trying to improve primary education there through teacher training and resource building. The other fellows in my class worked on a range of issues from small business development to health and sanitation to governance and more. Our collective focus was always and unwaveringly on our relationship with India and how we could use our time, skills and passion to do something positive and meaningful for the country of our heritage. Never once did religious fundamentalism, let alone support of such a thing, ever enter the conversation. Indicorps is about inspiring young members of the diaspora to explore their relationship with India through grassroots service work. Fellows come from all religious backgrounds and the partner NGOs that we stay with work in diverse areas from tribal Maharashtra to slum communities in Gujarat to middle-class Bangalore – areas that include Indians from every religious and cultural background imaginable.

President-elect Obama could not have made a better decision than to pick Sonal Shah as a member of his transition team. If the organization that she co-founded is at all representative of her values, which I know it is, then people should be able to see past all of these unfounded accusations and realize that she is a person who possesses supreme intelligence, tolerance and desire to make the world a better place.

I am aware that some people may think I am looking at Indicorps through rose-colored glasses because I was a part of it. I cannot say anything to that other than I assure you that everything I say is based on my direct experience with the organization and its founders. I do not have anything to gain from making Indicorps seem better than it is; my only interest is in representing the truth. People who still have questions should do their research: check out Indicorps’ Wikipedia page as well as their website to see what the organization is really all about.

christina said...

As you can see, there are plenty of people who are willing to attest to Sonal’s character, her life’s work and how she has directly and through Indicorps, touched our lives. As an Indicorps fellow, I worked in rural Rajasthan addressing issues causing malnutrition - 47% of India’s under 5 yo are malnourished - now this is something we should be getting up in arms about and work to address! As an Indian Christian living amongst Hindus and Muslims in a small village in Rajasthan, I quickly came to experience firsthand the common humanity which binds us all. This was a truly transformative experience which was in no way influenced by any ideology other than one of committed, conscientious service. The fellowship prompts us to think critically about how we might be able to be agents of positive change, not just during our year, but throughout our lives. In my current work on domestic health issues and as an advocate for international health work, I live the lessons learned daily. This is what Sonal Shah’s leadership has resulted in - committed, conscientious individuals who actively seek ways to create a more just world.

Just a thought... said...

Isn't it ironic how Vijay Prashad has a new book coming out soon? Did anyone ever think that this could just be a ploy for some free publicity?

Here's a statement issued by Sonal Shah for all you haters:




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