Sangh Samachar

An open letter to Sonal Shah

Posted in hindutva, Sangh Parivar, Vishwa Hindu Parishad by ravi on November 21, 2008

AN OPEN LETTER TO MS. SONAL SHAH, MEMBER OF PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA’S TRANSITION ADVISORY BOARD

“Your recent statement on Hindu nationalist groups raises more questions than it answers.”

November 20, 2008

Dear Ms. Shah,

We are a coalition of Indian-American groups and individuals representing diverse faiths, interests, and political affiliations, who are looking forward to working with the administration of President Obama to ensure that the interests of all Indian-Americans have a place in its policies. We represent families who have grievously suffered from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) led pogroms against Muslim minorities of Gujarat in 2002; Christians, whose communities and places of worship are under assault by VHP and its various creations for no other reason than the faith they were born in, or chose; Hindus and human rights activists who have been fighting, often at great peril to their persons, against religious bigotry and violence being fanned by the VHP, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and their various incarnations in India as well as in the United States (the Sangh Parivar).

As you can understand, we are legitimately concerned about reports of your personal links with the VHP — whose social values, politics, and actions are antithetical to President-elect Obama’s message of hope and inclusiveness — and how those links might possibly influence your role in the transition team and the new administration’s policies towards India and Indian-Americans.

Your recent public statement, therefore, that your “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” is a welcome one, and we fully expect that your actions on the transition team will be faithful to that assertion. However, your statement does not allay all of our concerns, given the irrefutable public record of your and your family’s linkages to the VHP and other Sangh Parivar organizations, as confirmed in recent utterances by RSS circles in India and by VHP America. We would like to share those concerns with you in the hope that you will respond to them:

To begin with, like you, many of us were engaged in relief work in the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake, when we came away with admiration for Gujarat’s civil society, despite persistent allegations that VHP and RSS were cynically using the disaster relief efforts to further their sectarian agendas. Many of us returned to Gujarat promptly in 2002 to provide relief and succor to battered Muslim (and Hindu) families, following the unprecedented violence directed against them — this time despite the openly obstructionist tactics of the Gujarat government. This period was followed by systematic intimidation of activists by the state: e.g. frivolous lawsuits against Ms. Mallika Sarabhai, a renowned artist and community activist, which prompted the Supreme Court of India to intervene on her behalf. And more recently, emboldened by their impunity in Gujarat, the Sangh Parivar has been orchestrating wide-spread violence against Christians in several BJP and BJP-partnered states of India, which has renewed the public demand for a ban on the VHP and its affiliate, the Bajrang Dal.

We remind you of this recent history to express our dismay and disappointment that at no time during this terrible period 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: As a person associated with VHP/RSS’s earthquake relief efforts in 2001, we are not aware of any acknowledgment from you of their widely reported sectarian bias in providing relief. We are not aware of any assistance from you or by Indicorps to the thousands of families affected by the 2002 communal pogroms, nor are we aware of your speaking out against the funding of organizations implicated in these hate campaigns by charities in the United States, with some of whom you have been partnering. And, more recently, we have not heard any condemnation from you of the spate of violence against Christian Adivasis being orchestrated by VHP, for which the BJP-partnered government in Orissa has been severely indicted by India’s National Commission for Minorities.

In the face of these facts, your bold assertion that you have “always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool” is deeply troubling. Furthermore, the revelation that you were part of the inner circle of VHP America at the time of the Gujarat earthquake indicates that your role was not confined only to humanitarian relief — an important detail that you did not address in your statement. And your consistent support for Ekal Vidyalayas (a VHP-founded movement with the major objective of countering Christianity among Adivasis), which has been found by the Human Resources Ministry of Government of India to be conditioning the minds of young children against religious minorities, adds to our fear that you have not fully distanced yourself from VHP’s intolerant, anti-minority ideology.

As you know better than most of us, President-elect Obama set a high standard of openness and personal accountability for himself during the campaign. We note from recent events that he is setting a similar standard of transparency for the transition team. In that spirit, we hope that you too will take personal responsibility for your undeniable past links with the Sangh Parivar and reconcile your recent statement against the VHP and the RSS with your silence amidst the most egregious human rights violations by them in Gujarat and elsewhere. We further hope that you will unequivocally disown and repudiate your and your family’s past and current associations with the VHP and all other Sangh Parivar organizations.

And, as a prominent Indian-American, we hope that you will join us in our call to the governments of India, Gujarat, and Orissa to speedily bring justice and rehabilitation to the thousands of victims of the Sangh Parivar’s anti-minority violence and to take immediate and effective measures to prevent such violence in the future. These steps will lend much credence to your statement that you do not subscribe to the views of Hindu nationalist groups.

As for your comment that you have been the subject of “ridiculous tactics of guilt by association”: Being everyday victims of guilt by association in the US as well as in India for being Muslims, especially in Gujarat, many of us can and do recognize the insidious nature of blog postings that you may be the subject of. Others among us have been the target of preposterous accusations by supporters of VHP and RSS and have been labeled as anti-Hindu, anti-Indian, pro-terrorist, etc., for seeking justice for India’s minorities.

In contrast, your family’s connections with the Sangh Parivar have been long, deep, well documented, and presumably continue to this day. So we must respectfully reject any parallels drawn between attempts during the campaign to find President-elect Obama guilty by association and legitimate questions about your past affiliations.

In closing, the Indian and Indian-American media have widely covered your appointment to the transition team with justifiable pride, and have spoken very highly of your credentials. We join them in congratulating you and in applauding President-elect Obama for demonstrating his commitment to true diversity by appointing an Indian-American woman to his closest advisory board. We have no doubt that you will bring your expertise to bear upon the many difficult decisions that the transition team will have to make in the next few weeks. But we also sincerely hope that your actions on the team will be mindful of the welfare and aspirations of all Indians, including minority communities, which are under unprecedented attacks by Hindu nationalist groups.

We wish you all the best in your endeavors and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
A Coalition of Concerned Indian-Americans

Endorsing Organizations
American Muslim Physicians of Indian Origin (AMPI)
Association of Indian Muslims in America (AIM), Washington DC
Friends of South Asia (FOSA), San Jose, California (www.friendsofsouthasia.org)
India Foundation, Michigan
Indian Muslim Council (IMC), Morton Grove, Illinois (www.imc-usa.org)
Indian Muslim Education Foundation (IMEFNA), North America
International Service Society, Michigan
Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India (NRI-SAHI), Michigan
Sikh American Heritage Organization, Wayne, Illinois
South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), Greater Vancouver, Canada (sansad.org)
Supporters of Human Rights in India (SHRI)
The Coalition for a Secular Democratic India (CSDI), Chicago. Illinois
Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, Michigan

Personal Endorsements
George Abraham
Girish Agrawal
Rasheed Ahmed
Shahid Ali, M.D.
Khalid Azam
Dr. Chinmoy Banerjee
Dr. Angana Chatterji
Nasir Chippa
Gautam Desai
Shalini Gera
Sapna Gupta
Nishrin Hussain
Mohammad Imran
Imtiazuddin
Kaleem Kawaja
Attaulla Khan
Wasim Khan, MD, MPH
Alex V. Koshy
Kursheed A. Mallick, M.D.
Saeed Patel
Shrikumar Poddar
Raju Rajagopal
Ravi Ravishankar
Dr. Svati Shah
Dr. Hari Sharma
Ramkumar Sridharan
Raja Swamy
Dr. Shaikh Ubaid

Sonal Shah on the VHPA Governing Council

Posted in hindutva, Sangh Parivar, Vishwa Hindu Parishad by ravi on November 15, 2008

[Note: Here is a description of the Governing Council from the VHPA website: [It] is the main policy making body of the Parishad. Meets annually to review the progress of programs and projects, and plan for the future. Members elected from different regions for a period of three years. With over 50 elected members this is the body that sets the direction for the Parishad.]

This document, hosted on hindunet.org (a VHPA/HSC creation), is self-explanatory.

# VHP Governing Council & Chapter Presidents/Coordinators List
# (vhpgc-l@hindunet.org)

# Updated on 04/30/1998 (GGV)

# Added Barai, Gajjar, Gajanan Joshi,Waghmare. Changed S. Gupta, S. Shah (GGV).

# Updated on 06/03/1998 (GGV)

# Added Shiv Agarwal

# Ajay : changed Babubhai Gandhi’s address 11/22/98

# Ajay : changed Jitendra Goel’s address 12/14/98

shiv@mindsprings.com (Shiv Agarwal)
aagarwala@aol.com (Anand Agarwala)
abhaya@lucent.com (Abhaya Asthana)
cbando@lynx.neu.edu (Chandan Bandopadhyay)
cbanerj@denali.ccs.neu.edu (Kanchan Banerjee)
bhbarai@iname.com (Bharat Barai)
yashwant@aol.com (Yashwant Belsare)
adesai@thehartford.com (Dilip Desai)
bgajjar@aol.com (Bharat Gajjar)
babugandhi@yahoo.com (Babulal Gandhi)
girish.gandhi@ssc.siemens.com (Girish Gandhi)
pjcj52a@prodigy.com (Sharad Gandhi)
pjcj52a@prodigy.com (Veena Gandhi)
bbg@mdc.net (Brij Garg)
sungokh@neu.edu (Sunil Gokhale)
anshug@aol.com (Ram Sewak Goswami)
gulaniu@pacbell.net (Uma Gulani)
nishved@aol.com (Arun Gupta)
rcarlton53@aol.com (Subhash Gupta)
lamodar@aol.com (Gajanan Joshi)
jvinod@ix.netcom.com (Vinod Jhunjuhnwala)
classic@classicdiary.com (Vrushali kene)
jlakhia@umich.edu (Jwalant Lakhia)
ylakra@aol.com (Yash Pal Lakra)
vartalapa@aol.com (Renu Malhotra)
mihir@hindunet.org (Mihir Meghani)
mjmehta@aol.com (Mahesh Mehta)
modhd@pfizer.com (Nayana Modh)
mukerjs@sterlingdi.com (Sushim Mukerji)
yogi_naik@py_cyanamid.com (Yogesh Naik)
pallod@aol.com (Vijay Pallod)
samvad@del2.vsnl.net.in (Anjlee Pandya)
pandyahc@juno.com (Harish Pandya)
jparekh37@aol.com (Jyotish Parekh)
103021.752@compuserve.com (Virendra Parikh)
rajpatel@ix_netcom.com (Rajesh Patel)
Ameya@worldnet.att.net (Vijay Ruikar)
ajay@hindunet.org (Ajay Shah)
sonal.shah@treas.sprint.com (Sonal Shah)
nandsharma@lucent.com (Nand Kishore Sharma)
glocon@village.ios.com (Vimal Sodhani)
ssomani@wpsmtp.siumed.edu (Satu Somani)
viswamitra@aol.com (Mandayam Srinivasan)
srtiwari@hotmail.com (Shyam Tiwari)
vicharak@aol.com (removed 06/03/98)
rvarma@hindunet.org (Rajiv Varma)
waghmare@juno.com (Prakash Waghmare)
# Chapter Presidents & Coordinators
jitendra.goel@trw.com (Jitendra Goel)
scholarlyp@aol.com (Subhash Gupta)
hhparikh@aol.com (Hasit Parikh)
Girish.Gandhi@stn.siemens.com (Girish Gandhi)

While Sonal Shah’s email address suggests an affiliation with sprint.com, in 1998 treas.sprint.com was a treasury department email address. (See, for instance, this PR from the Treasury.) As further confirmation, VHPA general secretary Gaurang Vaishnav has admitted Sonal being a part of the Governing body. With a paternalism typical of the Sangh Parivar, he claims “she was taken into our governing body … [while] she was just coming out of college”.

NDTV caught up with Gaurang G Vaishnav, general secretary, VHP-America who confirmed that not just was Sonal Shah a member of the organisation she was also on the governing body of the VHP-A.

Q. What was your reaction to the news of Sonal Shah’s induction into the transition board of the Obama administration?

It was a feeling of joy and pride that my country person, from Bharat is in that position.

Q. But, this is also a person who is a member of your organization the VHP, so was there more reason to be proud?

She used to be member of the VHP-America but more than that I have known her for many years. Father was my personal friend so it is a very joyous occasion.

Q. In what capacity was she a member of the VHP-A? How involved was she in the organization?

She was just coming out of college. We were trying to get the younger generation involved in the VHP-A. So she was taken into our governing body. Then the earthquake happened in Gujarat and she worked on that. She was there for 3 years.

Q. What is your response to the criticism that says she should not be part of the Obama team because of her connections with the VHP. Your response?

My response is that this is absolute hogwash. First of all is it a crime to be associated with the VHP or VHP-America, or the RSS? VHP America is an independent body of this country. It is not part of VHP-Bharat. Sonal Shah, from what I know was not a part of VHP-Bharat. Even if she were I would say there is nothing wrong with that. Even if she were I would say why should she be stopped. Has the VHP B or A been convicted of any crime? This is nothing but reverse McCarthyism.

Q.So, will there be more reflection of your ideology in the US administration?

I do not think so because she is an economist. That is what she is hired for, not for her Hindu values. In the United States, the President takes his oath on the bible. The President has weekly breakfast with church leaders. Obama goes to church. Would that disqualify him from being President? Religion is something very personal to a person. Without religion we would all be animals.

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.

Thanks to VHPA general secretary Gaurang Vaishnav, media secretary Shyam Tiwari, and the archived vhpgc-l list (three Sangh Parivar sources!) it is clear that Sonal was a member of the VHPA Governing Council at some point. It’s not clear how long she was on the Council, but it could have been for any duration between her graduation and now. The primary concern of many who are protesting Sonal’s presence in the Obama team is this: if she can seamlessly transition from a membership in the highest decision making body of the VHPA to the Obama  team, does it not serve to mainstream/legitimize Hindutva ideology? To let it pass would be to sanitize the criminal past and present of the Sangh, as Gaurang seeks to do when he asks: Has the VHP B or A been convicted of any crime?

All this is on one side. On the other side, it is not fair to hold anyone a prisoner of their past. Our views evolve with time, and we should allow for the possibility that having observed the Parivar from up close, Sonal perhaps was grossed out and got out of the Parivar. Sonal’s recent statement distancing herself from the Sangh is encouraging, but is hardly sufficient given new revelations of her long linkages with the Sangh Parivar. Speculations about her Sangh affiliations — how extensive they were, how long they lasted, when & why they ended etc. — are bound to continue until she decides to put a stop to them. As to what she can do, for now I’ll just repeat the suggestions laid out in the CSFH statement:

  1. acknowledge her past organizational associations with the Sangh Parivar
  2. distance herself from the public reception reportedly planned by the RSS in her native village in Gujarat
  3. categorically condemn the role played by Hindutva forces in anti-minority violence in India, and the facilitation of this violence by funds sent through various Sangh Parivar affiliates in the United States

CSFH statement on Sonal Shah

Posted in hindu fundamentalism, hindutva, Sangh Parivar, Vishwa Hindu Parishad by ravi on November 14, 2008

[read the original statement at stopfundinghate.org]

A virtual melee has ensued in print and digital media over the selection of Ms. Sonal Shah, an American of Indian origin to the Obama transition team’s advisory board. Shrill accusations of Ms. Shah being a “racist and Hindu chauvinist” are being reciprocated by equally shrill attempts to portray anyone who raises serious questions about the selection as being anti-India, anti-Hindu, anti-progress, and recently, as against “liberal civility.”  We condemn such baseless and unfair statements.

At the outset we wish to acknowledge that Ms. Shah has had a record of being a visible and an important face of the “desi American” community – a successful professional, and a politically and socially engaged citizen.

We are also happy to note at least one positive effect from this debate. Even as this issue gets played out on public fora, the din of militant Hindutva drumbeats has suffered some dampening.  Almost all participants, including those who have come out in support of Ms. Shah, have said that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — both integral to the Hindutva movement, are part of the “politics of hate” that must be resisted. We wish such statements had come much earlier, such as the time when people were being butchered in Gujarat, or when Indicorps (an organization Ms. Shah co-founded) was felicitated by Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat.

Ms. Shah has become something of a point of pride for many Americans with origins in India.  But Ms. Shah does have feet that leave tracks, has written words that have been archived, and has occupied offices of responsibility. We wish to explore this material record below by examining two of the most persuasive claims made by supporters of Ms. Shah. These are:

  1. That accusations of Ms. Shah being a closet Hindutva ideologue amount to “guilt by association“, a reference to the fact that her father Mr. Ramesh Shah has well documented leadership roles within the Sangh Parivar (Collective Family, the name for the set of organizations of Hindutva).
  2. That Ms. Shah’s only association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) was in the context of the Gujarat earthquake; surely, she cannot be faulted for not picking the right organization when urgent action was the need of the hour.

Our claims of Ms. Shah’s Hindutva associations are not based on guilt by association. Instead, we ask: What organizational and ideological work did Ms. Shah perform for and as part of the VHPA?

We have archived records demonstrating that Ms. Shah was a part of VHPA’s leadership group–the governing council and chapter presidents/coordinators. She participated in strategy discussions with prominent leaders of the Sangh Parivar. Ms. Shah was not just a bystander, she was considered important and trustworthy enough by the Hindutva leadership to be included in a core group with Ajay Shah, Gaurang Vaishnav, Mahesh Mehta, Yashpal Lakra, Vijay Pallod, Shyam Tiwari, and others.  Does Ms. Shah deny that she played such a role? Even in light of the recent public statement by Gaurang Vaishnav, General Secretary of the VHPA, that Ms. Shah was made a member of the governing council as she came out of college?

We are glad to hear Ms. Shah assert that her “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“, and that she does not “subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups.” However, in view of her close association with VHPA, as summarized above, Ms. Shah’s claim to have “never” subscribed to such Hindu nationalist views strains credulity.

Ms. Shah’s participation in the VHPA Governing Council predates by a few years her position as National Coordinator of VHPA’s Gujarat earthquake activities in 2001. The position of earthquake relief coordinator doesn’t seem to be an easy one to ascend to — VHPA’s website states that “national projects are executed by a committee of members drawn from the Governing Council and the various chapters.” Thus, Ms. Shah’s coordination of VHPA earthquake relief seems to have built upon her earlier leadership role within the VHPA. We do not know when/if her affiliation with the VHPA ceased, but VHPA media secretary Shyam Tiwari has recently claimed: “Sonal was a member of VHP of America at the time of the earthquake. Her membership has [now] expired.”

A note about Ms. Shah’s earthquake relief work.  Calamities such as the 2001 Bhuj earthquake often bring out the best in humans, but the Sangh Parivar is notorious for using such moments instrumentally and cynically for advancing its violent ideological agenda. An ordinary donor or fund-raiser can be excused for not knowing the Sangh agenda, but for someone like Ms. Shah, who grew up in a family deeply rooted in the Sangh Parivar, it is more than a little disingenuous to claim that such fund-raising was apolitical or neutral. There are numerous documented instances of the Sangh Parivar’s religion- and caste-based discrimination in doling out relief. Therefore we are shocked that Ms. Shah has expressed pride in coordinating relief work (under the ambit of VHPA) following the Gujarat earthquake of 2001. The relief work coordinated by the VHP is known to have rebuilt villages in the Kutch region exclusively for caste Hindus while marginalizing lower caste Hindus and Muslims to the periphery. The VHP thus took the opportunity of the earthquake to re-create multi-ethnic villages into exclusive Hindu spaces. In addition, given the pivotal role played by the VHP and other Sangh organizations in the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom, we fear her pride is entirely misplaced.

Although we appreciate the positive influence Ms. Shah has had on many second-generation desis, we have a hard time forgetting the many victims of Hindutva. If Ms. Shah really wants to dispel doubts about her linkages with the VHPA and other Sangh Parivar outfits, we urge her to  be more forthcoming in her condemnations of the Sangh Parivar, especially its branches in the United States since that has been the site of her involvement. Some ways for Ms. Shah to do this would be to:

  1. acknowledge her past organizational associations with the Sangh Parivar
  2. distance herself from the public reception reportedly planned by the RSS in her native village in Gujarat
  3. categorically condemn the role played by Hindutva forces in anti-minority violence in India, and the facilitation of this violence by funds sent through various Sangh Parivar affiliates in the United States

In Peace and Justice
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate

Update: Sonal Shah on the VHPA Governing Council