Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Obama Ignores Sonal Shah's VHP Ties
The White House hasn't yet officially confirmed it, but Google.org's Sonal Shah has told her friends and colleagues that she has been chosen by President Barack Obama as director of social innovation and civic engagement, according to a report in San Jose Mercury.
After successfully using social networking and Web 2.0 interactive media during the presidential race, Obama has been talking about making the inner workings of the US government, and his own White House, more transparent and interactive. Shah will be part of a team, including a chief information officer and a chief technology officer, responsible for figuring out how to effectively integrate Web 2.0 tools into a government digital network hampered by slow-moving bureaucracy. With her work experience at Google and her Silicon Valley connections, Shah appears to be eminently qualified for the job.
Notwithstanding her unquestionable professional competence for the job, her appointment is controversial due to her ties to the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is accused of using charitable works in India as a cover for inciting hatred against Muslims, Christians and other minorities. The VHP has been condemned by the U.S. State Department and the non-profit Human Rights Watch for its role in the 2002 Muslim massacre in Gujarat, which resulted in the deaths of at least 2,000 people, most of whom were Muslims.
Sonal Shah issued a denunciation of VHP after coming under severe criticism in November, 2008, following her inclusion in the Obama transition team. Stung by sharp criticism on the issue, Shah lambasted the VHP of America for standing by silently "in the face of its Indian counterpart's complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002." She also stated that at no time was she affiliated with the VHP of America, a claim that has since turned out to be false in an investigation done by Nextgov. Nextgov has uncovered email messages from May 1998 revealing Shah was not only an active member of the VHP of America, but considered one of the organization's next generation of leaders. Nextgov says the email messages show Shah offering advice to VHP leaders about how to improve public perception of the VHP and directly contradict her claims to have never been affiliated with the organization.
Nextgov is not alone in asserting Sonal Shah's VHP links. 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 White House spokesman has acknowledged that the administration is aware of the reports but declined to comment on Shah's VHP ties. Not only does it signal a callous disregard for the continued suffering of the tens of thousands of victims of Gujarat pogrom in 2002, Shah's appointment also shows how tone deaf the Obama administration is when it comes to legitimate concerns about the radical right-wing Hindutva Indian fanatics infiltrating the highest levels of the US government.
Here's a Tehelka.com video clip of Babu Bajrangi account and confession of killings of Gujarat Muslims in 2002:
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