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.”