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The controversy over Sonal Shah’s appointment by Barack Obama

November 24, 2008

The Indian media has widely reported the accusations made against Sonal Shah (appointed as an advisor in the Transition Team by Barack Obama), accusations of dealings with right wing Hindu groups such as the VHP and the RSS. Shah has been in the United States since she was four, and has an impressive resume, but is being trashed for having been a member of the VHPA (the U. S. branch of VHP) and of being (till 2001) the National Coordinator of the VHPA.

There hasn’t been much of this (if any) in the American media. In fact this is what a friend of mine wrote to me in response to an email in which I asked her what her opinion was about the Sonal Shah issue:

Who is Sonal Shah and what is the controversy? Those are the questions that came to my mind when I saw your email. I am a news junkie. So if I had not heard about her, I doubt the janta here has.

The Indian media though has gone overboard even though till now there is no evidence that Shah is linked with the political idealogy of the VHP. In fact she has denied it quite vociferously, saying that she has never been involved in Indian politics and that has nothing in common with VHP/RSS views. She insists that all she has done is relief work for the Gujarat earthquake victims of 2001. There are those who feel she should have condemned the Gujarat violence as well. Well, she didn’t, and I feel that if she were guilty she would have, just to ensure that people believed her.

So is Sonal Shah a right wing Hindutva person? There are two issues here. One, whether Shah is actually guilty of right wing Hindu beliefs, and two, whether her past association with such organisations, even if not actually involved in their politics, is bad enough to damn her. Let me tackle the first point first.

On the face of it it seems difficult to believe that someone who has been in the United States since she was a toddler would have a strong Hindutva idealogy, particularly an economist with a track record such as her. Before her current appointment on the Obama-Biden Transition Project Advisory Board, Shah headed a department at Google, and before that was Vice President at Goldman Sachs. She was also the co-founder of Indicorps (a US-based non-profit organisation) and has worked at the Department of Treasury from 1995-2002 on various economic issues.

A strongly worded editorial in the Indian Express, one of the few newspapers to support Shah, talked about this “utterly indefensible web and print media campaign in India and the US over the appointment of Sonal Shah in Barack Obama’s transition team”. It said:

[That] Shah has been repeatedly endorsed by the Obama transition camp is an irony [which has] escaped those who sought to destroy a person’s reputation by applying standards of proof that, if employed by a student in an American university, would fetch him a failing grade even in these times of grade inflation…

in diverse, robust democracies like India and America, judgment calls, especially about potential holders of public office, require a real appreciation of what it means to be a liberal: oppose all witch-hunts…

But coming to the second issue, politics is often about witch-hunts. And politics, certainly politics as we know it in India, is not all about academic credentials and capability, or even about the truth. It’s about credibility. Shah’s association with the VHP in the past, even if she did not share their political idealogy, is a black mark of sorts. It was enough for three Indian American organisations (Indian Coalition Against Genocide, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism, and Non Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India) to protest and warn “against Hindutva infiltration into the power centres of the US society.” Those with leftist views in America also saw this as an opportunity to tear down Obama’s secular credentials.

Well, if Shah actually shares the idealogy of VHP or RSS, her appointment can be questioned, but if not, can she be held guilty by association? To me this seems unfair, but then I am not political. I am only thinking as to why a professional should be condemned because of her past association with the VHP, and that too when it was purely for relief work. Specially when she has publicly declared that she has nothing to do with their political idealogy. There is no reason to believe that she is lying. But then I wonder if it is the truth that people want. Or is it plain cynicism at work here? Do people feel that she is a secret agent of the VHP?

Barack Obama certainly doesn’t think so. Despite criticism he has gone ahead and appointed her to his team. Maybe he did it because he doesn’t really care about her political leanings, just her competence, or maybe he did it because he was sure that she was not guilty. Whatever his reasons, I think it’s a little too soon to start to question his judgment.

(Photo is from rediff.com)

Related Reading: This is what the world is saying about Barack Obama
How Indian Americans are doing and the hype about it
Dual Citizenship – good or bad?
Does India see itself as sharing common values with the west?

46 Comments leave one →
  1. November 24, 2008 9:58 am

    I had the same question popping in my head when I read the first paragraph! We havent heard “anything” about her or her background till now in the media here!
    OK, now let me get back to your post :D

  2. Tara permalink
    November 24, 2008 10:46 am

    Rumour mongering shows a sick mentality and maligning someone without proof shows a similar mentality. However politics is a dirty business.

  3. November 24, 2008 10:52 am

    We are at it again… any person, remotely associated with India, is termed Indian when he/she attains great height somewhere in world.. to name a few; kalpana chawla, Sunita williams and now Sonal Shah.

    I don’t think the Indian media has any right to talk about her political or other inclinations… They didn’t even know her when she was associated with reputed companies and doing her job well… so why now???

    And how would it matter to India if she is in the Obama team or not (other than just proudly say that an Indian (!) is in there??)

  4. November 24, 2008 11:38 am

    “against Hindutva infiltration into the power centres of the US society.”

    I wonder what and how much difference can one person with alleged VHP link make in the attitudes and policies of so many Americans in the cabinet??
    Media over here just need a topic to cover their paper space. First let her become something, do something and then go and criticize her! Talk about counting chickens before they are hatched!
    Here is a good link on the topic
    http: //www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/005513.html

  5. November 24, 2008 11:38 am

    Comment gone in moderation. Boo hoo!

  6. noronha vivian permalink
    November 24, 2008 11:55 am

    Shades of Hitler.Why bother about her as she is of Indian parantage. Let her perform, whatever secret agenda,if she has one , in the States, now that she has is said to be on top, as far as the transition team is concerned
    If she is a fascist and she has denied it, then let her also condemn the genocide perpetrated inOrissa said to have a Harward educated P.M..Let her condemn the rape,burnings and now the call for a bandh on the forthcoming Christmas day by these rabid Indian Fascists of Orissa,who started their attacks on peacefulIndian christians last Christmas and are still on their jobs in our country.Quite right we should be more busy in our own country and ask our Chief Electoral Officer how on earth are fascist organizations who do not believe in democracy allowed to put up candidates for election and how they are registered under the electoral laws of our country.When we set this anomaly right then we can ask the world to see that Indian Fascists do not escape into foreign lands to fund hate campaigns from earnings of well paid jobs or connected people in those countries?

  7. November 24, 2008 12:14 pm

    Nita:

    I really think Indians in India (and that is the media mainly) need to stop obsessing about Indians abroad – both in the negative and in the positive contexts. If there are some arms smugglers, immigration rules violators and corner shopkeepers, there are bound to be some who have achievements and recognition in political and business communities. The latter are a sign of how well integrated they are in their adopted countries’ societies, which is not easy by any means.

    Many Indians abroad, esp. those who moved away at tender ages, do not particularly identify with India, whereas much ink is spilled and many column inches wasted discussing them in the Indian media. I find it mildly amusing when I am feeling generous, and extremely irritating when I am not.

    Besides, why does it matter if she has Hindutva leanings? People, who are criticising the appointment, betray a lack of understanding of the political appointment processes in the US. The tough scrutiny would bring tears to the eyes of the strongest of persons! That she cleared it suggests two things – one that she is made of something stronger, much beyond the comprehension of ordinary hacks; and secondly, clearly the US political establishment seems to have no objection to her politics. Why should people far away in India be jumping up and down about it on any account?

    Lamentable really, and I am glad the media in the west is paying no attention to this soi disant controversy.

  8. November 24, 2008 12:25 pm

    Among people of Indian Origin in US who have been in the news, Sonal Shah has been the latest one. It is but natural that Indians are trying to find more about her. Perhaps not to stake a claim on her achievements or to denounce her for her ‘suspectedly’ alliance to VHP. But just to know her rise to this position, which could be as phenomenal as the coming into prominence of Obama himself. I came across this article in “Counterpunch.com”, which I would like to share with you all.
    http://counterpunch.com/prashad11072008.html
    These publications will pose hard questions and one waits to see how Sonal handles the situation. Certainly there could be more positives that are not coming around so quickly?

  9. November 24, 2008 12:33 pm

    Even I feel, that the media gives an obsessive glorification of the achievements of Indians abroad….. They aim on glorification that they are “Indians”, though they are brought up mostly outside and are remotely associated….Its good to an extent of acknowledging NRI’s but people who flew away for employment or during riots etc and who make a decent living and not a glorious one are not cared for…..are not recognised….I understand, thats impossible so, whatever hush they are making about these people who are in great positions abroad is just a stunt…..do they really feel what they say??Kalpana Chawla would be the role model for many even though she might not be Indian….The only good the media is doing is, getting them near to the common man who otherwise would be ignorant of such things….but there is a limit for everything….false pride is dangerous!

  10. November 24, 2008 12:35 pm

    snippetsnscribbles, not read anything about her huh. I think she is a virtual unknown out there! :)

    Tara, As you said politics is dirty and there will be many “lobbies” trying to discredit her out there.

    Sakhi, I think in India we care less about competence of politicians and more about their so-called “associations.” The latest is the Omar Abdullah is being maligned for appearing in a photo with that Pandey who is a Malegaon blast accused.

    Reema, Agree, there are many people in his team, and she is a nobody in the bigger scheme of things.

    Vivian Naronha, thanks for giving your views. Regarding your last few sentences, a lot of organisations in India too are funded by fascist organisations from abroad, but all persons from those organisations do not have a hidden agenda. All those people who are conducting social service in India, feeding the poor etc, do not have secret agendas. We need to remember that.

    Shefaly, for me it’s just been plain irritation whenever I see anything about Indian Americans blown out of proportion. As you said, “Indians” who migrate at tender ages do not identify with India and I have my doubts that Shah even knows the details of the Gujarat riots. Also, that point you raised is a valid one, about the tough scrutiny.

    Gopinath, a certain amount of curiousity is natural I guess, but we tend to overdo it.

    Sahaja, False pride is the right word. We have false pride when it comes to the achievements of people abroad and when it comes to Sonal Shah, I can feel it could be the crab mentality of people out there, or the strong hatred of equally virulent right wingers. What we need is liberal thinking. – Nita.

  11. Dnyanesh permalink
    November 24, 2008 12:36 pm

    I think we are wasting time and blog space for this no issue. He is not appointing her as Secretary of State. She won’t not have any powers.
    And if you really want to discuss then what do you say about Muslim father of President-elect Obama? Can we assume that all muslims are bad? All VHP members are bad? All Church goers are bad?

    That’s an excellent point you have raised Dnyanesh. There was some witch-hunting going on about Obama’s Muslim antecedents, all biased and rubbish reports. For one thing, he is not a Muslim and even if he is, so what? About Sonal Shah, I think if she has said she is not affliated to the VHP, we should believe her. However, if she is a member just for relief work (and even this is the past) I see no harm in it – Nita.

  12. November 24, 2008 1:34 pm

    First of all, from your post, it looks like VHP and RSS are terrorist organizations ..

    US and UK, both, have publicly announced that VHP and RSS are not associated with any kind of terrorism acts and its members are not banned from entering the country .. Now if these tow countries themselves has come forward and has told the truth, why we Indians are tring our best to defame VHP and RSS ..

    ** Well, if Shah actually shares the idealogy of VHP or RSS, her appointment can be questioned, but if not, can she be held guilty by association **

    My point is even if she shares the ideaology of VHP and RSS, what’s wrong in that .. Let me be clear here .. To believe in Hindutva does not mean killings of innocent muslims or christians .. Media has wrongly interpreted this fact .. And the reason behind such a false interpretation is, they are funded by christian missionaries, Arabs and other foreign sponsors who want that India should be divied on the religion basis.. so they give all the undue credits to minorities and we hindus always feel frustrated and insecure in our mother land ..

    We have to come up and stand tall .. If we will not save hinduism, who shall save it?

    Soham, I am sorry if it comes across that way, but I am personally not comfortable with rightwing politics at all. Whether it is Christian, Hindu or Islamic. I have an equal distaste for so-called “christian” organisations. However I do not believe that VHP and RSS are terrorist organisations, but yes, I would hesitate to associate with them in my work at least. And I would definetely question someone who is a VHP/RSS member about his exact membership and views (I have some relatives with who are members) as I would want to be sure that their views are not extreme. I am against any sort of extremism. I would also equally question anyone working for a christian charity as to whether they prostelize. In fact I have done so of late. Yes I am suspicious but that doesn’t mean I do not trust Shah. – Nita.

  13. November 24, 2008 1:46 pm

    Well who can trust the Indian media? Our prime time is made of such nonsense and of course cricket is the top story.How ever big the sports news is,newspapers put it in the last page,but well the channels will have a top story saying dhoni sneezed etc.

    On the issue ,i agree with you.Even if our wonderful hindu terrorists(well Advani can claim all he wants,but terror has religion) have become clever enough to “plant” people like the Al Kida,I can’t see it being someone is such a top position.We should at least do as much as we do for the NRI spell bee winners,not bash them up.

    Vishhesh, true, better positive than negative. But then negative sells. – Nita.

  14. hoku permalink
    November 24, 2008 2:04 pm

    We should not much bothered about this news and the controversy. A creation of the media. Transition team is huge and it is a a 501(c)(4) organization. There are hundreds of people nominated. The work of this entity will be overseen by three co-chairs: former White House chief of staff John Podesta, Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, and Obama’s current chief of staff Pete Rouse. The co-chairs will be assisted by an advisory board comprised of Carol Browner, William Daley, Christopher Edley, Michael Froman, Julius Genachowski, Donald Gips, Governor Janet Napolitano, Federico Peña, Susan Rice, Sonal Shah, Mark Gitenstein, and Ted Kaufman.
    There are 11 groups each lead by a group of more than 10 Team Leads. Only notable Indian American(!) is Anjan Mukherjee.
    Each team consists of more than 20 person.
    To be honest I CAN’T FIND HER NAME IN THE LIST(change.gov/learn/obama_biden_transition_agency_review_teams) (may be I am checking a wrong list).
    Top of it as others have already mentioned she has been selected because she is an American passport holder not because she has some connection with India. I have never heard something like Kenneyan American Mr. Obama .
    We should stop getting excited about achievements of ‘Indian Americans.’

    Hoku, as you said there are hundreds of new appointees and she is only one of them. No idea why our Indian newspapers made so much fuss! – Nita.

  15. Vinod permalink
    November 24, 2008 2:50 pm

    The tendency of Indians in India to associate with the achievements of Indians abroad, regardless of their identification with India or Indian-ness, is indicative of a huge inferiority complex of Indians and also a hyper-nationalistic sense that is derivative of this complex.

    Sad isn’t it! I would however say inferiority complex of the english media more than anything! – Nita.

  16. November 24, 2008 4:38 pm

    Nita, I got your point .. Ofcourse, it is your own personal opinion that you are not comfortable with rightwing politics .. I support rightwing politics but not the extreme one .. I also do loathe any sort of extremism.. I will never go out and kill inncocent muslims/christians nor I will defend the ones who do it .. I will never go out and give various bribes and amenities to convert someone to Hinduism .. But yes, if someone is getting any kind of und-ue credit and favour just because he/she is from minority, i will stand up and shout .. If it is called rightwing politics, then yes I believe in that ..

    By the way, you are one of the very few writers who really put balanced thoughts and views .. YOu always call a spade a spade .. No partiality – No favourism .. When Jaipur/Ahmedabad blasts took place, you criticized SIMI as much as you criticized VHP/Bajrang Dal for their attacks on Christians in Orrisa .. YOu were never biased or partial to any community .. That’s why I love rading your post .. I get to know the right and clear picture everytime I read ur blog on current affairs .. Instead if I read blogs on CNN-IBN or on of other so-called secular/Intellectual, I would always feel that We hindus are the criminals and terrorists every time .. but you always put forward nice and clear views and that make me happy ..

    Hats off !! .. Kepp up the good work ..

    Soham, I try hard to be objective and I am glad that I succeed most of the time! Thanks. :) – Nita.

  17. November 24, 2008 4:42 pm

    I am with sakhi on this issue. I am sure that she has American citizen-ship and not Indian.
    I believe only link Sonal shah would have with India is her origin. Its a good and debatable topic, as to how much we associate Indians abroad second generation and third generation to be Indian.
    Sonal shah appointment for me seems to be just a political driven to lure second gen. and third gen. Indians in States.

    She is American, otherwise she wouldn’t have got a govt. job. – Nita.

  18. hoku permalink
    November 24, 2008 6:11 pm

    Soham@ would you please enlighten me when and where in India und-ue credit and favour have been doled out just because he/she is from minority’ (other than usual leap service). I would request to read Sachar committee report. Of course you may consider setting up such a committee as giving undue advantage to minorities. I hope you also protested when state sponsored pogrom was done against a community simply because they are minority.

  19. November 24, 2008 6:23 pm

    Nita:

    Strictly speaking, she is not part of the transition team. She is on a panel that will advise Obama & Co on their high tech strategy. She has prior experience in outsourcing etc and this is a relevant matter in Obama’s policy priorities. Her role in Google.org is global corporate development which means she has relationships and understanding of issues in the tech arena that few may have. She has had past professional interaction with Tim Geithner, rumoured to be the Treasury secretary which means she comes with highly placed recommendations.

    We are such a two-faced people! When someone discards our merit, we say we are victims of racism. When someone takes one of us (!!) on due to unarguable merit, we do everything to drag that person in the mud under the pretext of faux liberalism and secularism. What sort of tendencies does this demonstrate?

    I said in my last comment that western media is paying scant to no attention to this VHP/ RSS (non)issue. If you run a search on Sonal Shah on Google News you will see that the couple of headlines in western media are about her professional profile while each single article appearing in Indian media refers to these alleged VHP/ RSS links.

    A few articles refer to a group of NRIs. Who are these NRIs asking these questions? What is THEIR interest in raising these questions? The organisations that are referred are not known to most NRIs who are otherwise quite aware and plugged in. Can it be that they are just trying to use her to raise their own profile?

    And once again, what business is it of anybody in India whom the Obama administration appoint?

    Shefaly, thanks for that additional info. It is sad isn’t that we in India have chosen to report the negative part so widely while America is least concerned? Yes, I agree that this is some type of crab mentality at work. As for these organisations, I think they have over-reacted and I think that the reason is that religion is at work here, but maybe I am wrong. – Nita.

  20. November 24, 2008 7:09 pm

    @Hoku:

    Muslims get the subcidy for their Hajj Yatras.. We Hindus never get a penny for our Amarnath or Char-Dham Yatra .. Are we in Pakistan?? ..

    Muslims have their own laws for marriage and stuff .. They can have ‘ Hum Paanch – hamare pachhis’ .. We hindus have to follow -HUm do Hamare do” .. There is no uniform civil code .. Again are we in pakistan?? ..

    U must have heard about the Saira banu case which really angered Hindus and it gave a birth to the phenone called ‘ Hindutva’ ..

    ** I hope you also protested when state sponsored pogrom was done against a community simply because they are minority. ** –> I think u should update urself when it comes to GK .. Modi has been given a clean chit by the comitte set by Supreme court .. It was never a state sponsored .. Wehn minority community burns alive 59 Men-Women -Children in a train without any reason, what do u expect?? .. Retaliation was natural and inevitable ..

    Now I ask u this assuming that u r old enough .. Did u protest when Congress people went crazy killing 5000+ sikhs from every corner of delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assasination and Rajiv Gandhi defended it by saying it ‘ when a big tree falls, earth is bound to shake” .. Did u protest or hv any soft corner for Kashmiri pandits who have literally thrown out of kashmir valley just because there were hindus ..

    Still hv got many incidents abot the muslim-christian appeasement but will cut it short here ..

  21. November 24, 2008 8:30 pm

    Nita,

    Vivek K. had mentioned the counter-punch link (Prashad) in the Obama post last week, and my response still stands. It’s nothing but a smear job motivated by leftist ideology. I find it strange that Modi sticks so much in the craw of some men, while they blissfully ignore similar excesses by other (their own) political parties. Somehow, BJP/VHP/RSS are held to a different and higher standard than other political parties, when if you look at their actions, there’s little to separate them. That, to me, is the biggest hypocrisy of the so-called (pseudo)secular/left-liberal in India.

    Time to revive Rajaji’s Swatantra Party?

    Amit, no doubt the congress is as bad as the bjp where their track record is concerned. and in fact rajiv gandhi is more culpable than modi because he actually said something to justify the Sikh riots. Also it is well known that the congress organised the sikh riots. – Nita.

  22. hoddo-boka permalink
    November 24, 2008 9:01 pm

    Soham@ you are quoting from standard RSS/VHP text book. First of all government make elborate arrangements for Amarnath Yatra by spending crores of Rs every year. Deploy thousands of police and govt official en route to Amarnath. These are subsidies too. Dont forget about government sponsored Sindhu Darshan program by BJP govt. Reg Haj subsidy govt. subsisdises air fair only that too fair in Indian Airlines is highest for this route. You may do a bit of googling to get more info. Any way in a true secular country there should not be any sponsorship of religious event by government. Muslims should refuge to accept such subsidy.
    Reg. state sponsored pogrom do you expect them to keep proof of that by giving written orders. As congress govt could not be implicated for sikh massacre in Delhi. There are enough evidence of role of police and administration. BTW USA did not give visa to Mr. Modi, or that again is some secular conspiracy.
    Reg Godhra massacre there is another version by
    Banarjee commission Report and some Tehelka expose. You may take them as another secular conspiracy.
    Don’t you think your two statements
    1. ‘I support rightwing politics but not the extreme one’
    2. ‘Retaliation was natural and inevitable ..’
    are contradictory?

    I think we (proud liberal secularists and a true Hindu ) have answered n number of times those two VHP/RSS fev issues reg Kashmiri Pandits and Sikh riot in Delhi. Yes, those incidents are equally bad.
    BTW hope you are aware that Christians in Orissa are thrown out of their village because of their religious believe and stays in camps. This is time also police and administration looked in different direction.

  23. November 24, 2008 9:15 pm

    I have not heard about this here in the US. I think media in India likes to blow it out of proportion whenever a Indian makes news here in the US. Good or bad, they just need some juicy Indian news outside India. I am sure Obama appointed her purely based on her skills and what she has to offer and like you said she is probably associated with VHP only during the relief work.
    someone who has been in the United States since she was a toddler would have a strong Hindutva idealogy
    You have to understand that US has a very large number of conservative christians. It will not surprise me if there are conservatives here from any religion.

    Dinesh Babu, as you said the media here like some juicy news and negative is always more juicy! About that point about conservative christians in the US, I have heard about it. But how many second gen Indian Hindus are conservative Hindus? I doubt that there are many. It would be rare, particularly with someone with a resume such as hers. I tend to associate resumes like that with those of liberals. – Nita.

  24. Kumar permalink
    November 24, 2008 9:22 pm

    Can someone clear or frame rules for hindus how they should socialise with respect to their religion and its practice.

    Socalled secular indian electronic media CNN/IBN, NDTV and others always makes claims about extremism related to RSS/VHP or sangh parivar organizations just to highlight & encash advertisers as 80% of the population in India are hindus.

    If hindus can’t associate themselves with RSS/VHP & sangh parivar they have to come out clearly with which organizations hindus
    can associate so that, they wont be branded as rightwing.These so called secular channels cry about baba ramdev & his teachings as right wing while they show yoga in “NDTV Good times” channel practiced by cosmopolitian/metro girls Is this what secularism..?

    Politicians in USA had supported and associated themselves with church & christian organizations from long time.Infact we had seen several situations that associating/socializing with religious groups is never accepted as a rightwing in the west.They give equal importance to all religions including atheism.Rightwing definition changes in the west and India.Practicing religion is free and fair. It won’t invite any unwanted media attention in USA & west unlike in India we know what is going on, Indian Electronic Media had never allowed Big B and his family to visit a temple without reporting.Religion is private and a family affair for each and every individual on this planet.

    In the olden days the famous kid in the village use to be the one who abuses his/her parents in public. Because, abusing the parents use to be a big issue & everyone use to discuss this for years about this kid.

    Similarly,in this generation now we have a new formula to become famous.Abuse our own religion in the name of secularism (pseudo).The result is rich,famous,metro,cosmo citizens.

    The psedo secular media is creating a situation as If association with religion is crime.Please check we can’t find a single news reader who bears a bindi or Indian dress in NDTV, CNN IBN or headlines today.The reasons are wellknown.

    The credibility of these news channels is in question from long time and people never accept the quotes of these channels unless it a non- religious,non-language or non-culture topic.

    So, We can find NDTV,CNN IBN and like minded Indian media unnecessary attention to Sonal Shah’s appointment by Barack Obama.Time will prove this hue & cry is biased.

    Kumar, it is the Indian American organisations abroad who are making it a crime to be associated with VHP/RSS. In India it is certainly not a crime. We even have right wing political parties and their people can be appointed to senior govt. posts. – Nita.

  25. November 24, 2008 10:04 pm

    Okay, so she does not share any of the ideologies of the VHP/RSS, but was a member and national co-ordinator of the VHP in America. Quite a weird co-incidence that :) !

    I am not saying this proves that she is a right-winger, but nothing she said or anything you have written above proves to me that she is not.

    You will be quite surprised at the amount of pro-Hindutva NRIs, especially in the USA, but thats perhaps a different matter.

    Vikram, I thought her self declaration speaks for itself. Ofcourse she could be a VHP spy but I have my doubts. And yes I am aware of the pro-hindutva lobby in America. I guess its safe to be pro-hindutva in America, as I doubt that these people force couples to marry, attack cinema halls, oppose hindu-muslim marriages and so on. In India I hate all of these pro-Hindutva parties, mainly because of the restrictions and rules they feel women should follow and their idea that the west is corrupting India. – Nita.

  26. November 24, 2008 10:06 pm

    Nita, one more thing the earthquake happened in 2001, but you said she was national co-ordinator till 2001, what was her connection with the VHP before this ?

    Vikram, the lady has been involved in fund raising and relief activities, that’s all. She probably chose VHP as her parents were involved in the organisation. I don’t think that makes her a Hindutva person, even if her parents are. I mean, do second generation children in the US share their parents political beliefs? Parents who are born and brought up in India? Quite likely there is a clash. – Nita.

  27. November 24, 2008 10:18 pm

    I am not saying this proves that she is a right-winger, but nothing she said or anything you have written above proves to me that she is not.

    Vikram, is it a crime to be a right-winger? Your comment seems to suggest that. By that criteria, should all those “left-wingers” who support Congress be held responsible for 1984 riots and excesses of Emergency, and hence, guilty by association? In lieu of justice for the Sikhs, what we’ve got is an apology after 20+ years. So in the interest of fairness, let’s give Modi the same amount of time to apologize.

    You will be quite surprised at the amount of pro-Hindutva NRIs, especially in the USA, but thats perhaps a different matter.

    You’ll also find many pro-Congress/pro-Communist NRIs, especially in the USA. And what of it?

  28. hoddo-boka permalink
    November 24, 2008 10:27 pm

    Kumar@ what about main stream Hindi media like Ajtak, India Tv etc. After any terrorist incident, they have non stop program on Islamic terrorism and its mastermind. Only after the recent arrest of some ‘babas’ and ‘matajis’ english media have started talking about Hindu Terrorism. Truth is always bitter. Any way you always have a good scapegoat the ‘pseudo secular’.

  29. November 24, 2008 10:45 pm

    In my oponion barack obama has faith in her work so he selected her,if the president of america &american public have no problem then why indian media have.Barack obama appointed her as advisor in america not in india.VHP/RSS are doing all there work in favour of nation or against integrity of nation in india & these are not terrorist organisation in eyes of world so if some one is associated it with in any where he/she has prerogative to do job according to their talent.If in india we cant take action against the culprits of kandhamal riots &other why we want to remove someone from their post because only she was a meber of VHP.

    Nadeem, I agree that there is no reason for the Indian media to go on about it. And as you said, even if she is associated iwth VHP, it is not a terrorist organisation. – Nita.

  30. November 24, 2008 10:57 pm

    There we go again! I have never even heard of her before. Why do we always look towards the west for a pat on our back? We don’t let a Foreigner run our country but take great pride when an Indian is on a Political committee of some other nation.
    There is a movie releasing in December in which they have shown Taj Mahal and today there was an article in the newspapers that how India is becoming an integral part of Hollywood movies.
    They have just shown the Taj!!!!!

    Amit, in this case they are spoiling her reputation and insinuating that she is associated with the gujarat riots in some way. – Nita.

  31. Kumar permalink
    November 24, 2008 10:58 pm

    @ hoddo-boka

    Can you please check where from the word “Islamic Terror” originated.Its not in India.
    Its the BBC & CNN of the west who started from the days of the israeli-palestine issue.Indian media never used islamic terror nor they had associated islam with terrorists.

    Indian media would have associated neighbouring pakistan’s ISI or bangladesh HUJI which doesn’t mean ISLAM or any religion.

    Truth is always sweet in a longer run.Law will take its own course.It has been evident in the Sri.Kanchi Kamakoti Jayendra saraswathi case where the state government tried to unsuccessfully malign him.

  32. November 25, 2008 2:10 am

    Nita, you said, “the lady has been involved in fund raising and relief activities”, fine thats a good thing, “thats all”, how do you know ? I never said that she is surely a Hindutva person, just that, so far nothing has proven to me that she isnt.

    Amit, considering that the right-wing parties are involved in systematic pogroms (for whatever ‘provocation’) against minorities, and the open defence of accused terrorists is enough to be wary of right-wingers. Now you will come back and say, but the ‘left-wingers’ ‘defended’ accused terrorists, yes they did, through legal counsel as is the right of every Indian. Whereas the right-wing party itself is coming to the open defence of accused Hindutva terrorists.

  33. November 25, 2008 5:31 am

    Vikram, if you are so blind to your own prejudices or cover them up using labels like “liberal” and “progressive,” then I can’t really help you there.

    My point is about the different standards applied to different political parties, when all of them indulge in despicable behavior. And your above comment is a prime example of that kind of double-standard which is quite common in Indian politics and media, because based on their actions, I don’t see Congress or CPI/M as holding some higher moral ground from which they can lecture other political parties and their actions. Look up which political party’s goons were responsible for killing Safdar Hashmi.

    My position is that I hold all political parties responsible for their respective misuse of state machinery, instead of using a relativist approach (“systematic” and “not systematic”) or offering one example or the other as justification (“they did it too”). Both Sikhs and Muslims who were murdered have little use for an apology – what matters is justice for their surviving kins, and by that criteria, Congress/CPI/CPIM/BJP all get an F, though you are free to find nuances which I don’t particularly care for.

    BTW, by this definition of pogrom – (n. An organized, often officially encouraged massacre or persecution of a minority group, especially one conducted against Jews) – what makes the 1984 anti-Sikh riots not a pogrom whereas the post-Godhra riots one? As far as I’m concerned, let’s call a spade a spade and label both of them as pogroms.

  34. November 25, 2008 7:46 am

    Amit, I never claimed that the Congress/CPI were any saints, so far I have not mentioned a single word about them, please read my comments carefully. When I said left-wingers I meant ppl like Teesta Seetalvad and Shabnam Hashmi. I know all parties in India resort to violence whenever they can.

    But I will mention some little nuances which you can take note of if you wish, till today inspite of Gujarat’s great economic progress, the refugees from the Gujarat riots are living in refugee camps. Highways have been built, power plants set up but they have not been rehabilitated. Yes, the anti-Sikh riots were abominable, but they were not a consequence of the Congress’ s broader agenda. The anti-Sikh riots went on for 4 days whereas the Gujarat riots went on for an entire month.

    And this was not the first or last time the right wing party indulged in violence, there were riots following the Babri Masjid demolition and the recent violence in Kandhamal and Karnataka, all have one common entity.

  35. November 25, 2008 7:58 am

    Vikram, she said so, that’s why! And I believe her. But as other people have said on this thread, being a hindutva person is not a crime. I have my own reasons for not liking these people (in India) but that doesn’t mean it’s a crime to be hindutva and that for this reason she should be banned from a US govt. job. If people want to associate her with the Godhra riots, then I am indeed surprised and put it down to paranoia and/or hatred of Hindus as a group.

    And I fully endorse what Amit is saying. I think it is possible that you have fallen victim to some propaganda. All political parties in India have goons at their disposal. Recently CPM goons have created havoc in west bengal, there are many cases of rape and looting. And all organised and planned, to put the fear of god into the population. Sure, Godhra was worse, but Godhra happened as a reaction to a train-full of pilgirms being charred to death and even though reports have said that the train fire was natural, there are conflicting reports, but the main point was that this was not known at the time. No way I am justifying, so don’t misunderstand. I am simply comparing different political parties and the provocation they had to organise these sickening carnages. The congress did it because one lady was assassinated and the CPM did it to frighten people into giving up their land! All of it sickening. There is no way that anyone can say that godhra was worse than the 1984 Sikh riots.

  36. Brand Robins permalink
    November 25, 2008 9:03 am

    So I’m American, and you’re right that this issue isn’t getting a lot of play in America. The reasons for this are multifold, but can be boiled down to a couple simple points.

    1) To most Americans India is seen as an ally state and not dangerous. Americans who do see India as dangerous are going to think about terrorists who target Americans, not Indian political parties who have problematic histories of violence within the state machinery.

    If this seems over simplistic and semi ignorant, well… I think it is. But then there’s been little enough comment about Rahm Emanuel’s appointment to Chief of Staff despite his ties to Israel and problematic history vis a vis Iran, so its little surprise that there would be few comments about Sonal’s appointment by comparison.

    2) Most folks in politics are not going to be overly concerned (rightly or wrongly) with right wing Hindu views gaining a single foot in the door of the White House. The truth is that Hinduism plays very little part in most American’s understanding of politics, and between the violent disputes about fundamentalist Christianity and Islam there just isn’t a lot of room in the American public consciousness for the idea that there are Hindu groups that might be problematic.

    If she had ties, or even suspected ties, to an ultra Islamic group, or maybe even an ultra right wing Christian group, folks would make noise. But suspected ties to a right wing Hindu group isn’t going to raise many eyebrows. And even if some folks might be wary of it, the truth is that most would still right it down to a single point of issue. After all, there hasn’t historically been a powerful Hindu faction in the White House, and compared to the right wing Christians her voice is going to be fairly insignificant. One right wing Hindu against a thousand right wing Christians…. The only worry many would have is if they find common cause. (How does the VHP feel about Iran?)

    3. The few Americans that have a good understanding of this issue have to talk about it very carefully. Because while there are legitimate concerns, there are also a lot of traps that one can fall into by attacking someone on the basis of religious/political affiliation in the States. If major American newspapers made a large issue of it, and did it badly, it could very well be spun as (or actually lead to) anti-Hindu racism. And that is something that most papers, especially those with a liberal bias, will walk a thousand miles to avoid.

  37. November 25, 2008 9:26 am

    @hoddo-boka:

    Well, If you are considering that providing police and army for the security of the amarthnath yatris is some kind of subsidy then I think you should move to pakistan .. So if police is therte to protect your house-city-country, is it a subsidy to you??? .. At least we are not paid any kind of airfare – trainfare- bus fare for amarnath yatra .. If we are paid then it will be called subsidy .. And i’m sure that we will never be paid as this is a (islamic)secular country ..

    Modi never asked for US Visa nor he was denied .. He wanted the comformation that if he gets the visa then and then he will apply for it .. US consulate said we will look into the matter so he never applied the visa ..

    Will you trust Banarjee commission Report who was appointed by our own Lalu Prasad or will you trust more Nanavati report who was apponited by Supreme court?? .. Ofcourse you are (pseudo) secular, you will trust banarjee commision ..

    ** Don’t you think your two statements
    1. ‘I support rightwing politics but not the extreme one’
    2. ‘Retaliation was natural and inevitable ..’
    are contradictory? **

    Wasn’t ur congress cotradicitng when they proclaim themselves as a true secular country and then they went out on the streets to kill Sikhs?? .. Rajiv Gandhi defended it ..

  38. @hoddo-boka permalink
    November 25, 2008 10:26 am

    Soham@ Nanavati committee was appointed by Mr. Modi not by supreme court. That’s the reason the commission submitted 1st part of the report to Gujarat Assembly on 25th Sept 2008.
    Moreover the committee did not give clean chit to Mr. Modi for post godhra violence. It has said that ‘ there was no evidence to incriminate Mr. Modi or any member of his Cabinet ihad played any role in the Godhra inciden’
    SO STOP GIVING MISINFORMATION REGARDING CLEAN CHIT BY SUPREME COURT TO MODI REG GUJARAT RIOT.
    Although this is a standard technique followed by RSS/VHP.
    I would request you to see the Tehelka expose regarding the commission report.

    Committee appointed by Mr. Lalu Prasad does not reduce its credibility. Why to doubt integrity of Justice Banerjee?

    Why you think who ever is secular is Congress or member of a political party? There are thousands of hindus who dont believe in hate politics of BJP/RSS/VHP and Bajrangis. They also dont find any difference between policies of Congress and BJP.
    All your assertions are clearly shows your political affiliation and all your arguments are just to further its cause.

    Why I should go to Pakistan, its my country too. Don’t think you being a right wing conservative more patriotic than me. Patriotism of RSS is well documented during freedom struggle.

  39. pss4005seh permalink
    November 25, 2008 10:31 am

    I don’t understand a thing about Indians…if any NRI does anything(good or bad..) why the media and people make it so much important..like a prestigeous issue…??? they become hyper within a second if any Indian is associated with any controversy(..and is it really a controversy everytime??)..it seems as there is no work for people other than commenting on anybody…:-((

  40. November 25, 2008 1:34 pm

    Welcome to the latest form of terrorism.

    “Emotional Terrorism”.

    I will be terrorised if I say I am a Hindu and go to a temple every day and rubbished in the media as an obscurantist, prejudiced, communal and fascist and many more on these lines.

    Hindu bashing is a sure-shot formula to one’s fifteen minutes of fame. Results are instantaneous and sensational. There are million pseuds to lap it up and a million TV channels and other media points to carry it to the far corners of the country.

    Further, one gets praised to high heavens for being so spotlessly secular.

    Let Obama and the US administration worry about Sonal Shah.

    Is it not ridiculous??? We Indians seem to have lost all sense of proportion?

    Mavin, as long as people who are true liberals and truly impartial to all religions are not called pseudo secular it’s okay but I have seen that this also happens. I think one should use this term wisely. It is not necessary that Hindus need to defend Hindus who are doing wrong things. What do we call those who believe that people of one’s own community should be defended regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty? The word pseudo is too mild I think. – Nita.

  41. November 25, 2008 4:06 pm

    Hi Nita,

    My comment was in the context of criticising anything labelled Hindu or anything remotely linked to anything Hindu.

    We tend to attack and criticise without bothering to find out the context of the matter. In Sonal Shah’s case, she is an American citizen who has been brought up in that culture and ethos.

    It is indeed warping facts and circumstances to deduce a link which becomes an easy target for witch hunting as you say.

    I have never said that Hindus who do wrong things should be defended by other Hindus in the context of your current post re: Sonal Shah.been

    My limited point was we always go overboard and fight monsters where there are none and you can see many instances of certain people who are past masters at Hindu bashing.

    There may be many things wrong in “Hinduism” if you will, but what we see today is complete mockery of our culture, customs, beliefs, faith…..(There is more to Hindus and Hinduism than VHP and BD)

  42. November 25, 2008 5:13 pm

    Brand Robins, thank you for giving us a balanced look at the subject. It has increased my understanding of the situation in American manifold.

    pss4005seh, as someone said, an inferiority complex!

    Mavin, I’m sorry, but when I read your comment I thought it was meant for today’s post, the one on the Malegaon blasts and the way the comment began, about terrorism, I thought it was for that post. :) Ofcourse you did mention Sonal Shah, but at the time I thought you meant that she was not important, the subject of terrorism was . Now when I see this comment under the right subject I understood what you meant. Entirely my mistake. This happens because at wordpress we get our comments all on one page, whichever the post, but that’s no excuse, I should have checked the name of the post. Sorry again.

  43. November 25, 2008 8:57 pm

    I’m surprised that the right-leaning media in America hasn’t picked up on this as much as they’re trying to portray Obama as a fascist, but I haven’t heard anything either. I’m not a news junkie, but I have a few friends that adore the right wing media and I hear most crack-pot accusations. I’m sure it’ll come up eventually because if it even hints of being a scandal there are several media hosts that will jump all over it.

    I think it’s likely a media witch-hunt. The accusations you site that are coming from the media immediately make me suspicious. I’m not well acquainted with the Hindutva, but if she has fascist leanings I think the media would have more than a casual association to report on. If someone can produce some real evidence, then I’ll entertain the notion that she’s not innocent of the accusations against her. Too often smear campaigns are about blackening the reputation rather than about proving any particular charge.

  44. November 26, 2008 2:44 am

    I frankly do not understand this hullaballo about her appointment. The Indian media is aping the American media in terms of shock-value reporting.

  45. November 26, 2008 10:14 am

    Nita, if all other parties are using violence, then that doesnt mean that I should not criticize the BJP for its actions. And I have spoken against the CPI many times for the violence it inflicted on people in Singur.

    You guys did not answer my question, the anti-Sikh riots were abominable, but they were not a consequence of the Congress’ s broader agenda. The anti-Sikh riots went on for 4 days whereas the Gujarat riots went on for an entire month.

    They were both acts of violence, but represent vastly different things.

    I don’t mean that Vikram. I detest all parties equally! :) And I was talking about Nandigram, but yes Singur also. Also whether how many days the riots went on is not the way I like to compare. It’s the heniousness of it all, that’s just how I think. About broader agendas, there are so many complexities here that we can argue forever! But I have a feeling that broadly speaking, we are on the same side. :) – Nita

  46. December 18, 2008 8:37 pm

    The majority of the Islamic parties in India qualify for being far-right political parties. One very good example is the far-right MIM party in Hyderabad.

    In comparison to them, BJP is extremely moderate.

    We should stop giving a free ride to Islamic parties, just because they happen to be Islamic. We should recognize and encourage liberal Muslim intellectuals to float political parties. This is the crucial part of the battle.

    Giving credence to BJP / VHP will help nothing in safeguarding our country from terrorism.

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