Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sonal Shah to Help Divide Obama's Victory Spoils


President-elect Barack Obama has picked Indian-American Sonal Shah, a University of Chicago graduate who heads Google’s philanthropic arm, as one of the top advisers to help him assemble his team. This announcement comes on the heels of the controversial appointment of Rahm Israel Emanuel as Obama's White House chief of staff.

There are well over a thousand government secretaries with various prefixes, including deputy, under, assistant, deputy assistant, and assistant deputy to appoint by the incoming Obama administration. On top of that, there are several thousand more political appointees, such as ambassadors and diplomats, who don’t have the word secretary in their title. This ritual, often called "dividing the spoils of victory", is carried out each time a new president takes office in Washington. As expected, the loyal campaign workers and supporters get the lion's share of the plum jobs. Readers of this blog can try their luck by applying for these most-sought-after jobs here.

The first thing the president-elect has to do is build a transition team to recruit and fill these positions. Obama's point man for the job is John Podesta, a Jewish-American from Chicago and former Clinton aide, assisted by a team of advisers. In addition to the Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Sonal Shah will help Mr. Podesta in this task. Other members include Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett and Obama's Senate chief of staff Pete Rouse.

According to the Washingtonian, Podesta has the dubious distinction of having been ranked the third most powerful lobbyist. According to the newspaper, BP, whose "pipeline problems and refinery fires have created regulatory and public relations issues," has turned to Podesta, who "has quietly been guiding BP through congressional hearings."

The members of the advisory group will have considerable influence in selecting people to fill several thousand positions that will help define and implement US policy for the next four years.

According to Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History at Trinity College, Hartford, CT, Sonal Shah has been actively involved with India's right-wing Hindu organizations accused of Gujarat massacre of thousands of Muslims in 2002.

Here's what Mr. Prashad says about Sonal Shah's past: But there is a less typical side to the Shah story. Born in Gujarat, India, Shah came to the United States as a two-year old. Her father, a chemical engineer, first worked in New York before moving to Houston, and then moving away from his education toward the stock market. The Shahs remain active in Houston’s Indian community, not only in the ecumenical Gujarati Samaj (a society for people from Gujarat), but also in the far more cruel organizations of the Hindu Right, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (the main political party of the Hindu Right) 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 U. S. branch of the most virulently fascistic outfit within India. The VHP’s head, Ashok Singhal, believes that his organization 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 BJP government in Gujarat honored Sonal Shah with the Pride of Gujarat (Gujarat Garima) award. Sonal Shah could not attend, but her brother Anand was there, to get the award from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in the presence of the "venomous" Narendra Modi, according to Prashad.

Indian Muslims have not been the only victims of violence perpetrated by RSS and VHP. Christians have suffered, too. According to All India Christian Council, the 2008 violence affected in 14 districts out of of 30 and 300 Villages in the Indian state of Orissa, 4,400 houses burnt, 50,000 homeless, 59 killed including at least 2 pastors, 10 priests/pastors/nuns injured, 18,000 men, women, children injured, 2 women gang-raped including a nun, 151 churches destroyed and 13 schools and colleges damaged. The violence targeted Christians in 310 villages, with 4,104 homes torched. More than 18,000 were injured and 50,000 displaced and homes continued to burn in many villages. Another report said that around 11,000 people are still living in refugee camps.

A South Indian newspaper Deccan Herald is reporting that Sonal Shah has been invited by the RSS, another Hindu militant outfit, to a reception in her honor.

According to a report in Times of India, several Indian groups have protested the appointment of Sonal Shah in American President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, claiming that she is closely associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They warned against Hindutva “infiltration” into the power centers of the US society. The protesting groups include Indian Coalition Against Genocide, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism and Non Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India.

Sonal Shah's brother Anand Shah has denied his sister's links with VHP or Gujarat riots of 2002. As a “coordinator” of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America (VHPA), Anand claims Sonal Shah helped raise funds for victims of the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat. This denial seems hollow because Anand has not denied the specific allegations of Sonal's and his family's active participation as VHP activists in America before, during, and after the 2002 Gujarat riots widely blamed on Hindutva groups, including the VHP.

Rahm Emanuel's appointment as White of House Chief of Staff has also drawn widespread criticism from those who want real change. Emanuel, with close connections to AIPAC, was a leading supporter of Bush's Iraq invasion. In Congress, Emanuel has been a consistent and vocal pro-Israel hardliner, sometimes more so than President Bush. He has strongly reacted to the mildest of criticism of Israel. In June 2003, for example, he signed a letter criticizing Bush for being insufficiently supportive of Israel. "We were deeply dismayed to hear your criticism of Israel for fighting acts of terror," Emanuel, along with 33 other Democrats wrote to Bush. The letter said that Israel's policy of assassinating Palestinian political leaders "was clearly justified as an application of Israel's right to self-defense".

Emanuel's father, Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, was a member of the Irgun, a Jewish terrorist group responsible for many massacres of Palestinian villagers to drive them out of their homes in 1948. In an interview with Ma'ariv, Dr. Emanuel, said he was convinced that his son's appointment would be good for Israel. "Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying. "Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House." The Ma'ariv article also quoted Dr. Emanuel as saying that his son spends most summers visiting in Tel Aviv, and that he speaks Hebrew, but not fluently. Ma'ariv calls Emanuel "our man in the White House".

It is ironic that both Emanuel and Shah, with close ties to the far-right politics in Israel and India, have become part of the supposedly liberal elite assembled by the Obama campaign to pick the top political appointees in the incoming administration. This choice of people with extreme rather than mainstream records is clearly a disappointment to those of us looking for the change Mr. Obama has promised.

Given their questionable affiliations, the early appointments of Rahm Emanuel and Sonal Shah raise serious doubts about President-elect Obama's judgment and intentions. The people these advisers select to work in the incoming administration will likely not be helpful in developing an objective US policy in the Middle East and South Asia, two very critical regions of the world.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

No kidding. You reap what you sow, and those who voted for Obama have sewn the beginning of the end of the United States. READ YOUR HISTORY.....

Anonymous said...

I voted for him and as I clearly stated elsewhere - I voted for the lesser of the two evils...
Here is more of anticipated surprises...
http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts11102008.html

Anonymous said...

oama has a left centric image and it is ridiculous he includes right wing figures in his cabinet..may be he does not fully know about gujarat riots and role of VHP

Roshni Kasad said...

I have known Sonal for 5 years, and I can tell you that all of us who know her have an incredible amount of respect for what she has done for her community here and abroad. I first met Sonal when I was an Indicorps fellow in 2003, working on an education project in a rural community in Gujarat, where Hindus and Muslims reside. Among her many contributions to the community, Sonal and her siblings started Indicorps, a non-profit that sends Indian youth back to India to engage in a year of service. The fellows are of a range of backgrounds: Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsee, among others. The projects we have engaged in reach all sectors of society. Indicorps' work extends into Muslim communities, Hindu communities, and communities that have been marginalized by the caste system. Through her work with Indicorps (as well as at Google and her many other positions), Sonal has always strived to help those in need, regardless of what faith or community they may come from them. Over the past few days, I've been upset by the number of articles in all the big Indian newspapers distorting the facts about her, her family, and Indicorps. I do understand that we want to be sure that people in power should be of the highest esteem and should be engaged in fair and just behavior. I'm thrilled that Obama, someone who possesses these qualities, has been elected as our next president. From all my personal interactions with her, I believe that my friend, Sonal, also possesses these qualities. I encourage your readers to check out what other people who actually know her personally have to say about her and about her work by going to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indicorps and http://rishsanghvi.blogspot.com/2008/11/in-defense-of-sonal-shah.html#comments

Anonymous said...

Thanks Roshni for enlightening us. So what have you or Sonal done in response to Gujrat riots? Do you support Government position or you support Harsh Mander on Gujrat issue? Where do you or Sonal stand on Narendra Moodi?

Jadev,India said...

^^So to get a posting, Sonal Shah has to do some Bush bashing or Modi bashing. Who created these rules. Give me a break. If Narendra Modi was involved in riots he would have lost his job and might have got himself in prison. Neither happened; He is considered as the most efficient hard working chief minister around such that even Ratan Tata praised his governance especially regarding facilitating Nano Project in Ahmadabad. He is in loggerheads with RSS and VHP leadership and even then without their support, he got elected the second term. Muslims in Gujarat had it coming when 3000 of them arsonists and burned people alive in Godhra. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction..atleast from now on. Rules have changed.

Riaz Haq said...

According to media reports, Sonal Shah has denied any links to VHP or RSS, without explaining her position as "coordinator" of VHPA or the awards and recognitions from BJP, VHP and RSS orgaizations. Here's a quote from her denial statement: " ... my personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or any such organization. I've never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so. Second, I've always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool."

Prior to this statement, there is no record of Shah denouncing VHP or RSS or condemning their well-documented role in Gujarat massacre of 2002.

Anonymous said...

Jadev - I take pride in any south Asian doing good for himself and for the country that he hails from. So, there is nothing personal here. India's progress is a great example and I sincerely hope that the benefit is reaching to the poor masses. With your attitude I can only see more death and destruction and a U-Turn on progress. Go through your response again and think about the value system that you would brag about...

Ketki said...

I have worked with Sonal Shah's organization Indicorps and have gotten to know her work from the experience. As a religious minority, I can tell you personally, that the organization and Sonal Shah never pushed upon any ideology and included people of all region and religions in their work. More than that, Sonal has been an inspiration in my own search for how to best provide community service, particularly in regards in India. Also, the controversial award granted was not an award of Modi -- the claim is only that he was there when the award was given. She actually has come out publically and stated "my personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organization. I've never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so...I've always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool...I do not subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups, and never have." You can read her entire statement at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?sid=6c4bc9d23c640109a536e87fe81ae9f8&refurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fs.php%3Fsid%3D6c4bc9d23c640109a536e87fe81ae9f8%26ref%3Dsearch%26init%3Dq%26q%3Dsonal%2Bshah%26n%3D-1%26o%3D4%26k%3D200000010%26sf%3Dt&gid=44245237111

Riaz Haq said...

I can understand that as a child of South Asian parents, she dutifully followed her family into VHP. But what did she do as an adult? Did she try and understand what VHP stands for? Did she ever speak out against their hateful ideology? Why did she maintain any links with VHP even for humanitarian causes such as earthquake relief, knowing how VHP behaved toward minorities who were also victims of the quake? Did she know about the VHP's well-documented role in 2002 Gujarat massacre? If she did, why didn't she speak out earlier?

Prior to this statement, there is no record of Shah denouncing VHP or RSS or condemning their well-documented role in Gujarat massacre of 2002.

Anonymous said...

Here is more on this subject...
http://www.counterpunch.org/prashad11132008.html

Jaydev,India said...

^^anonymous.
I am not a member of VHP/RSS or subscribe to all their conservative views barring some intersections.But I believe Muslim appeasement has gone too far and "some"(sizable segment with street strength) Muslims have predictably took disproportionate/ malicious advantage of goodwill and squandered it.As a resident Indian,I don't relate to or proud of "Asian" tag.I have pure contempt of MK Gandhi or whatever he stood for.I believe in bullet for bullet, blast for blast complying with rules of Dharma Yudth (Jihad/Crusade equivalent) against perpetrators.I dont support indiscriminate reprisals that happened in Gujarat though the angry response is understandable and normal in any "uncivilized,uruly" society like India(which is in a period of transition).I would have supported and even joined in vigilante action in Gujarat if it was for killing those 3000+ arsonists, not men,women and children going about their business. Similar stuff is happening in Karnataka and Orissa..and some of them have created a Hindu terror outfits. This is an inductive response and normal when terror suspects are released because of pressure groups headed by islamic clerics , thereby capitulating to vote bank politics. I dont have a value system or religious( I dont pray to any god or use holy books to justify my actions)..only conscience which i listen to.

Anonymous said...

Jaydev - The more you try to hide the more you end up revealing yourself. Can you point to a blog and/or portal where you or Shah have condemned killing of Christians in India? Or as per you, everyone else is an aggressor and you are the peaceful victim. Finally, its good to believe in something and you appear to be believing in your conscience...in a very twisted manner though!!!

Jadev,India said...

^^^ I didn't hide anything neither tried to appear as a peacenik..nor do i condemn Gujarat Riots or confrontation that is going between tribes in Orissa.I think that they(Bapist/Pentacostal missionaries) had it coming.Enemy's enemy is a friend. In that sense,I do support some of the "grievances" of Sangh Parivar. I have never stated that I am a victim of anything or anyone(I live in a pretty peaceful place..Kerala). Some of my best friends are Muslims and am a great fan of some of them.(though its a non-issue..I felt compelled to convince u that I am not living isolated in a cave ;-)).I also sympathise with Hindu terrorist outfits (if recent news is true) though they will eventually go haywire like PWG,ULFA etc .I just stated my background in prev-post so that ppl dont get fixated with my Hinduvta apologist stance..and see things black and white..

Anonymous said...

Nothing surprises me on the Hindu underground militant agenda.
The Australian missionary and his two young sons were burnt to death inGujerat. The savage raping of a NUN by a high caster Hindu gang in Bihar. The continuous murder and arson being carried out in Bihar with police collusion is proof of the fanaticism that is endemic in India at present.

A land with over 400 million indentured slaves cannot claim to be a democracy. That has been the lot on that Scheduled Castes, Dalits, Gonds, Megwars, and others since the so-called Independence of India in August 1947. It is a blot on humn dighity.

Sonal Shah's membership and promotion of the RSS, BJP and other fanatical Hindu organizations, puts into question her appointment to Barack Obama's transition team in Washington,DC

Riaz Haq said...

The BJP/Sangh Parivar's vote bank consists largely of India's urban middle class, including the well-educated high-tech work force which has found its way into the NRI community in the United States and Europe. BJP is often given credit for economic reform in India which was, in fact, started by Congress in the 1980s. To its credit, the BJP did sustain that reform process, benefiting mainly the middle class in India. Visiting right-wing Indian leaders in the US and Europe are often warmly welcomed, wined and dined by the same folks who pass as liberals and Democrats in the US society, often citing the secular nature of India's democracy and constitution. At the same time, the BJP leadership advocates removing the word "secular" from the Indian constitution. And it stays deliberately silent when minorities, including Christians and Muslims, are persecuted in many Indian states ruled by the BJP. It's the kind of hypocrisy that serves the Indian interests well in the Western world. In this respect, Sonal Shah's situation is not unique. She is one of tens of thousands of NRIs in the US who engage in this act of hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Jadev - Neither friendship with some muslims, nor reference to Kerala is na proof of character or a proof of impartiality. Try something different to hide yourself.

Riaz Haq said...

After strong criticism, Sonal Shah has finally decided to cut her ties to VHPA, with the following statement:

"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 V HP of America."

In a statement, obtained and posted by NextGov and the National Journal, the Google executive said 2002 Gujarat carnage were one of the "most profound tragedies" in the long history of the state when "extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands."

According to a web posting and an e-mail sent to her political supporters on Friday, Shah asked for help combating the allegations and expressed fear that the Obama transition team would ask her to resign as a result of the story.

"I need your help," wrote Shah. "This is gaining legs as the National Journal also picked it up and likely Fox. I need to mobilise 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."

http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Sonal-Shah-renounces-VHP-affiliation/397117/

Riaz Haq said...

The BBC is reporting that a delegation of the European Union is due to visit a region which was hit by anti-Christian riots in the eastern Indian state of Orissa last year.

Members of a hardline Hindu organisation have protested against the visit saying it was a violation of the "sovereignty" of the country.

The violence in Kandhamal district left at least 40 people dead and more than 25,000 homeless.

The riots followed the killing of a Hindu religious leader and four others.

A local leader of the hardline Bajrang Dal Subas Chouhan has criticised the Orissa government for allowing the delegation to visit Kandhamal.

"It seems the state government wants the riots to return," he said.

Orissa chief minister Naveen Patnaik said the 11 member-delegation was going to Kandhamal to see the "development activities there".

Christian leaders have denied that the visit would lead to religious tensions.

"Those who are opposing the visit are the perpetrators of the communal violence. So their anxiety is understandable," Raphael Chennath said.

The delegation was originally scheduled to visit Kandhamal early last year, but the federal government refused permission because of the general elections in April.

Kandhamal district witnessed weeks of anti-Christian violence after a Hindu leader was shot dead.

The clashes erupted after hardline Hindu groups blamed Christians for the killing.

The government set up two fast-track courts to deal speedily with cases relating to the riots.

Riaz Haq said...

Here is an excerpt from a 2004 article titled "Hinduism and Terror" by Paul Marshall on Hindu extremism and violence:

The RSS is now a major paramilitary organization with millions of members. Its educational wing, the Vidya Bharati, has some twenty thousand educational institutes, with one hundred thousand teachers and two million students. The Vidya Bharati schools distribute booklets containing a map of India that encompasses not only Pakistan and Bangladesh but also the entire region of Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet, and parts of Myanmar, all under the heading “Punya Bhoomi Bharat,” the “Indian Holy Land.” The RSS also has separate organizations for tribal peoples, intellectuals, teachers, slum dwellers, leprosy patients, cooperatives, consumers, newspapers, industrialists, Sikhs, ex-servicemen, overseas Indians, and an organization for religion and proselytization, as well as trade unions, student and economic organizations, and a women’s chapter.

http://www.marijuana.com/politics/14978-hinduism-terror.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts from an Op Ed piece "The US as Israel's Enabler in the Middle East" by KATHLEEN CHRISTISON:

Before the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the United States never considered that Egypt was quite the strategic asset that it became when it surrendered its military capability in the interests of Israel. The same can be said about the United States’ relations with several other Arab states. Its involvement in Lebanon over the years -- including its effort to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon --
---
The recent Wikileaks releases of State Department cables and particularly al-Jazeera’s release of a raft of Palestinian documents dealing with negotiations over the last decade also demonstrate with striking clarity how hard the United States works, and has always worked, to help Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process. U.S. support for Israel has never been a secret, becoming less and less so in recent years, but the leaked documents provide the most dramatic picture yet of the United States’ total disdain for all Palestinian negotiating demands and its complete helplessness in the face of Israeli refusal to make concessions. It is striking to note from these papers that the U.S. role as “Israel’s lawyer” -- a description coined by Aaron David Miller after his involvement in negotiations during the Clinton era -- is the same whether the administration is Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s. Israel’s interests and demands always prevail.

Beyond the Arab world, U.S. policy on Iran is dictated more or less totally by Israel. The pressure to attack Iran -- either a U.S. attack or U.S. support for an Israeli attack -- which has been brought to bear for most of the eight years since the start of the war on Iraq, ...
---
It has been clear to most analysts for years, even decades, that the United States favors Israel, but this reality has never been revealed so explicitly until recent events laid the relationship bare, and laid bare the fact that Israel is at the center of virtually every move the United States makes in the region. There has long been a taboo on talking about these realities, a taboo that has tied the tongues of people like my interlocutor. People do not mention Israel because they might be called anti-Semitic, they might be attacked as “singling out” Israel for criticism; the media fail to discuss Israel and what it does around the Middle East and, most directly, to the Palestinians who live under its rule because this might provoke angry letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions by Israel supporters. Congressmen will not endanger campaign funds by talking honestly about Israel. And so Israel is taken off everyone’s radar screen. Progressives may “mention Israel in passing,” as my friend told me, but they do no more. Ultimately, because no one talks about it, everyone stops even thinking about Israel as the prime mover behind so many U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.