Thursday, December 11, 2008

Sonal Shah in the Obama team: right-wing Hindu sympathizer?

Sonal Shah is part of the Obama transition team, on leave from, and a former Clinton Treasury official. She is a member of the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform panel.
Today I saw an article on that Shah "formally severs links with the VHP." Googling around a little, Shah has been accused of being a sympathizer of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) by Professor Vijay Prashad of Trinity College, Hartford, CT in an article on Counterpunch.

A second National Journal on this topic prompted a fresh statement from Ms Shah, in full here. A second NJ article is here (where I picked up some of these links). Shah's statement included this nugget:
In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America.

Emphasis added. Any Indian involved with politics (even stateside) should have been aware of the 1992-93 Hindu-Muslim riots following the demolition of a Muslim Masjid by a Hindu mob led by BJP leaders, and the extremism the BJP and its allies, including the VHP, are guilty of, IMO. The 1992-93 events and the surrounding "Hindu nationalism" campaign kick-started the BJP's rise to power. So this is a really weak denial, if you ask me.

An e-mail she sent her supporters apparently includes:
"I need your help," wrote Shah. "This is gaining legs as the National Journal also picked it up and likely Fox. I need to moblize [sic] people against the leftists and the right wing. There is a likely chance that they will ask me to resign as team does not need my publicity."
(National Journal story; emphasis added.)
I haven't seen any such mentions on dkos in the past month. This is not a specific targeting of Indian-leftists (even in the US), but a generic statement similar to the VHP-A's assertion (quoted below).
UPDATE: So my search criteria was a day or two less than required - I found three diaries on Nov 8/10, two questioning Shah's ties to the VHP (link1, link2), both of which received 1 "rec" and 250 comments in total - mostly saying the diarists were wrong. The third diary praised the first two diarists for raising the question and initiating a spirited discussion. Still, two diaries does not the American left make; an American such as Sonal Shah should know that "leftists and the right-wing" in the US means liberals as found on dkos, and Republicans, respectively.

For people who don't know, the VHP is part of the Hindu nationalists in India, which includes the more mainstream Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The trail ends (starts?) with Professor Prashad's article in Counterpunch, which goes into some historical detail about Gujarat, the site of Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 (allegedly aided by the BJP state government). Prashad also details Ms Shah's apparently strong family links to the VHP/BJP/etc. (her father came stateside when she was very young). He describes a personal encounter in 2004:
In 2004... I questioned her links to the Hindu Right, and so asked people to be wary about her organization, Indicorps. She was furious, and we had a bitter exchange in the Green Room. But at no point did she deny her active connections to the Hindu Right... “Of course we are free to have our multiple associations, and there is no expectation that all our affiliations necessarily influence each other. That necessity is granted, although it is my understanding that the VHPA is a very disciplined organization that demands a lot from its members – notably congruence in all the work that they do. Which is why I raised the question.”

Guess who next raised the question? None other than Rick "gay marriage leads to bestiality" Santorum (talk about bipartisanship, and a Republican accusing someone of right-wing ties!) From the first National Journal article:
Santorum's Thursday op-ed piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer repeated the charge made by several others:...
"Shah should condemn the VHP and its actions soon," Santorum wrote. "If she doesn't, keeping her on -- or, more ominously, giving her a post in the new administration -- would send the message that the president-elect does not think the VHP is a radical organization."

Santorum's certainly not someone I want to associate with.

An "open letter" to Shah by members of the Indian-American community says: no time during this terrible period [Gujarat 2002 riots] are we aware of any statement from you dissociating yourself from these dreadful acts of VHP and RSS, especially given your proximity to these organizations:

And according to a Q&A with the general secretary of the VHP-America,
Q. She gave a statement where she says she does not identify with the ideology of the VHP. Does that hurt you?
No, everybody does not have to stand up for everything. You have to see the forces running against you. There is something called wisdom. It is very clear what is going on. Known characters from the Left. Leftist, Communist, Marxist well-known Hindu baiters, Hindu haters are coming out of the woodwork. So you do not have to fall in their trap. No matter what you tell them they are going to sing the same song so I think what Sonal has done is correct.

[Rick Santorum's a Marxist?!]

Full disclosure: I *hate* the BJP and its cohorts. Anyway, my point here is not to say one way or the other whether Sonal Shah is deeply tied to right-wing, Hindu nationalist nutjobs. I don't know. I repeat: I DON'T KNOW. But Shah has accused "leftists" of spreading lies and rumors, just like the VHP (even though Shah's part of the American left, i.e. Democrats!), and her denial is very weak; so I have to ask the question.

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