Sikhs Care About the Sonal Shah Debate

Yes, now it’s our turn….The debate has been raging in the South Asian blogosphere and although this post is extremely late, the issue is still important, especially for those Sikhs in the diaspora.scary.jpg

The issue surrounds that of Sonal Shah. Sonal Shah, like many young ambitious desis in the US, has an exceptional resume with the US Department of Treasury, the World Bank, the Center for Global Development, and even worked as a VP for Goldman Sachs. The most recent entry on her resume includes working as the head of Global Development Initiatives for google.org. With regards to the desi community she was able to establish the successful Indicorps project that serves as a conduit for those wishing to volunteer in India in 2001 (as a completely unrelated note, it is interesting to see the Sikh initiative FATEH in Punjab started almost 5 years prior to Indicorps).

Now before you start wondering why I am posting her biodata/resume, it will become pertinent if you keep reading, I promise. So during the recent American presidential election, Shah acted as a technology advisor to the Obama campaign team and was recently announced to be on the Obama-Biden transition team.

All was quiet on the western front until Vijay Parshad, a well-known academic that holds the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College wrote an article on a popular blog, titled Obamas Indian: The Many Faces of Sonal Shah. As he later wrote, this one created a little kerfuffle.

In the post, Prashad (on a complete irrelevant (sort of) sidenote Prashad comes from a Punjabi Hindu family with Sikh members in his own family. Although he shared this with me, I am not sure of the nature of his own identification) raises some questions about Sonal Shahs links to the RSS, VHP, BJP, and other Hindutva organizations. While Shahs parents involvement with the RSS is undisputed, some questioned that linking Sonal to the politics of her parents were tenuous at best. Sonal Shah issued a number of statements denying such associations and asking her supporters to rally to her cause. In an email she even wrote:

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 the team does not need my publicity.[link]

Prashad followed up his first article with another Guilt by Participation: Sonal Shahs Membership Has Expired where he argues that many of Sonal Shahs explanations are gratifying, but unpersuasive. He argues using a timeline that Sonal Shah could not have been unaware of the activities she was sponsoring and facilitating as she was in her 30s at the time as well.

In the meantime, South Asian bloggers weighed in with their opinions. Sepia Mutiny has been one place hub of discussion (well if it has been civil enough to call it a discussion). Interestingly, it is its two keshadhari Sikh bloggers that have been most vocal in the ongoing discussion with Amardeep Singh, unequivocally, defending Sonal Shah and Ennis taking a far more cautious approach.

There are sort of three camps

  1. those that strongly support Sonal Shah and believe she is being smeared by Vijay Prashad
  2. those that are completely convinced by Sonal Shahs affiliations
  3. those that are cautious and believe that they deserve a serious consideration no matter whether they decide to support her or call for her ouster

In addition to Amardeep and Ennis (and now we can add TLH), the Sikh American Heritage Organization, Wayne, Illinois [I couldn’t find much information on them except for some press releases, anybody else know anything?] (along with Muslim and secular groups such as the American Muslim Physicians of Indian Origin (AMPI), the Association of Indian Muslims in America (AIM), Washington DC, Friends of South Asia (FOSA), San Jose, California, South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy (SANSAD), Greater Vancouver, Canada, and Supporters of Human Rights in India (SHRI)) lent its name to an Open Letter to Sonal Shah by A Coalition of Concerned Indian-Americans that states:

Your recent statement on Hindu nationalist groups raises more questions than it answers.[link]

There is two ways we can open this thread the first is to actually talk about Sonal Shah. I will fire the opening salvo. For me personally, I am in camp #3 but am sort of unconvinced by her claims but then again I am a politicized Sikh where discussions of the diaspora and Punjab politics helped shape my youth just as for many other youth where the events of 1984 (including the pogroms in Delhi) and its aftermath helped shape our perspective on South Asia. To not know about the activities of the VHP, BJP, RSS in 2001 far after the destruction of the Babri Masjid in 1992 seems to me almost willful ignorance.

Or the other way we can open this thread is to further discuss the point that I just mentioned our own involvement/associations with diasporic organizations and even Gurdwaras. This issue was tangentially raised by Sundari in a recent post about Gurcharn Singh of Southall and his past Khalistani affiliations. One commenter on Sepia Mutiny wrote something in a similar vein:

Trying to do good can get you in messy situations. I always joke around with some Sikhs that if any of us ever wanted to run for any office and a reporter came to the Gurdwara, we would be in deep shit because of some Khalistan stuff on the wall’s of the Gurdwara, even though we know absoultly nothing about that stuff.

Seriously if I volunteered for a Sikh run soup kitchen and I ran for office, some one could trace it back to Khalistan terrorists and say that I wroked for an organization that supports terrorism that sucks because I can see it happening to someone.[link]

Personally I dont think it is the same as the issue surrounding Sonal Shah as it is different to be a Khalistani (or have Sikh nationalist ideology) and to raise funds for a group like the Babbar Khalsa (now as I have previously written, it is just foolishness) during the peak of the troubles. Sonal Shah’s situation in my opinion is more analagous to a person that went beyond only ideological affinities. Well, let’s hear more and I am sure I will chime in at some point.


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40 Responses to “Sikhs Care About the Sonal Shah Debate”

  1. Raja says:

    AHH YES, The Sonal Shah debate, I am glad someone posted something about her. My opinions about her stem from so many facets of my life, so I guess I will explain a little about myself, so people can understand where I am coming from.

    Firstly, I am a 22 year old, 1st year Medical School student from Toronto, Canada. I was born in Punjab, and travel back every summer for the last 16 years of my life, Punjab is more than my home, its my life. I am born in a mixed family with Hindu and Sikh Punjabis. Every step I take in the mandir, I take in my Gurdwara, and to me, I am a student of Sikh and Hindu philosophy. Now, how it relates to Sonal Shah? My biggest pet peeve in life? NATIONALISTS!!!

    Sonal Shah is someone who embodies something positive in South Asians, a successful woman who did not give up her heritage for prosperity (ie- see Bobby Jindal). She is someone who has remained close with the South Asian community, and has continued to donate her time to causes dealing with the South Asian community. In 2005, when she was with Goldman Sachs, I attended a lecture of hers, and talked to her briefly regarding her green intiatives, and the women is simply put, brilliant. IN MY HUMBLE opinion, I feel like one of the BIGGEST problems with the South Asian community is bringing down those who prosper because of our regional differences. It might be a hard concept to grasp, but I have a feeling others may agree with me…

    There is a tendency in the south Asian community to focus in on the rifts that divide our community, and translate that back to prosperous members of our community. For example, When Manmohan Singh was elected president, I remember talking with other members of my gurdwara committee, and I remember people saying such things as he is an "uncle tom", a "sellout", questioning the validity of his religious self and even a embarrassment to the Sikh community. I thought to myself, this is a man who is a leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world, is a man who has taken amrit, a man who doesn't hide his religion, and SOME people feel the need to bring down someone from our community who has prospered to the highest level. I can go on and on, but I wont. People like Neel Kashkari, Deepak Chopra etc… of people who have made in to the highest ranks of their field from our community and who are brought down by of all people, their own.

    Now, I am not saying we should NOT question those who are prosperous because of that fact, far from it… But one thing we must be vigilant about as a community is that there has been a long history of the reduction of the South Asian identity in the west. Facets and thoughts of imperialism still exist everywhere we go. When we see a member of our community succeed, there should be a sense of accomplishment for the whole community, regardless of what controversy may surround them (because with so many rifts in South Asia, there is bound to be)…

    If Sonal Shah herself is affiliated with the RSS etc…, we should be upset, and she should definitely pay some sort of price, if she did assist such organizations. But, as a community, let us defend before we question. So many rumors regarding Shah have come out, none of which are proven (I guess i am in the same boat as the author because I am just waiting for more facts to come out), but how many times have we heard about the pride associated with a proud member of our society reaching the levels she has reached?

    Again, we should definitely be cautious about moving forward, but sometimes I feel like within the South Asian community, our self inflicted divide is what brings us down more than anything from without

  2. Raja says:

    AHH YES, The Sonal Shah debate, I am glad someone posted something about her. My opinions about her stem from so many facets of my life, so I guess I will explain a little about myself, so people can understand where I am coming from.

    Firstly, I am a 22 year old, 1st year Medical School student from Toronto, Canada. I was born in Punjab, and travel back every summer for the last 16 years of my life, Punjab is more than my home, its my life. I am born in a mixed family with Hindu and Sikh Punjabis. Every step I take in the mandir, I take in my Gurdwara, and to me, I am a student of Sikh and Hindu philosophy. Now, how it relates to Sonal Shah? My biggest pet peeve in life? NATIONALISTS!!!

    Sonal Shah is someone who embodies something positive in South Asians, a successful woman who did not give up her heritage for prosperity (ie- see Bobby Jindal). She is someone who has remained close with the South Asian community, and has continued to donate her time to causes dealing with the South Asian community. In 2005, when she was with Goldman Sachs, I attended a lecture of hers, and talked to her briefly regarding her green intiatives, and the women is simply put, brilliant. IN MY HUMBLE opinion, I feel like one of the BIGGEST problems with the South Asian community is bringing down those who prosper because of our regional differences. It might be a hard concept to grasp, but I have a feeling others may agree with me…

    There is a tendency in the south Asian community to focus in on the rifts that divide our community, and translate that back to prosperous members of our community. For example, When Manmohan Singh was elected president, I remember talking with other members of my gurdwara committee, and I remember people saying such things as he is an “uncle tom”, a “sellout”, questioning the validity of his religious self and even a embarrassment to the Sikh community. I thought to myself, this is a man who is a leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world, is a man who has taken amrit, a man who doesn’t hide his religion, and SOME people feel the need to bring down someone from our community who has prospered to the highest level. I can go on and on, but I wont. People like Neel Kashkari, Deepak Chopra etc… of people who have made in to the highest ranks of their field from our community and who are brought down by of all people, their own.

    Now, I am not saying we should NOT question those who are prosperous because of that fact, far from it… But one thing we must be vigilant about as a community is that there has been a long history of the reduction of the South Asian identity in the west. Facets and thoughts of imperialism still exist everywhere we go. When we see a member of our community succeed, there should be a sense of accomplishment for the whole community, regardless of what controversy may surround them (because with so many rifts in South Asia, there is bound to be)…

    If Sonal Shah herself is affiliated with the RSS etc…, we should be upset, and she should definitely pay some sort of price, if she did assist such organizations. But, as a community, let us defend before we question. So many rumors regarding Shah have come out, none of which are proven (I guess i am in the same boat as the author because I am just waiting for more facts to come out), but how many times have we heard about the pride associated with a proud member of our society reaching the levels she has reached?

    Again, we should definitely be cautious about moving forward, but sometimes I feel like within the South Asian community, our self inflicted divide is what brings us down more than anything from without

  3. Raja says:

    OH MY GOD, I just saw the length of my post, I apologize…

    Also it came across like I was defending Shah which I am not at all. I am just saying the amount of rumors circualting about her are primarily generated from within the South Asian community… I just feel saddened when I read such negative comments about her, because with everything not yet proven, shouldn't we feel some sort of accomplishment with this women possibly getting a cabinet seat in the Obama white house.

    If she is affliated with the RSS etc… then I would probably be as outraged as any other person, but let us wait and see..

  4. Raja says:

    OH MY GOD, I just saw the length of my post, I apologize…

    Also it came across like I was defending Shah which I am not at all. I am just saying the amount of rumors circualting about her are primarily generated from within the South Asian community… I just feel saddened when I read such negative comments about her, because with everything not yet proven, shouldn’t we feel some sort of accomplishment with this women possibly getting a cabinet seat in the Obama white house.

    If she is affliated with the RSS etc… then I would probably be as outraged as any other person, but let us wait and see..

  5. Mehul says:

    Sonal Shah did make a statement clarifying her position on issues, which is linked to but none of which was quoted above:

    “I was recently maligned by a professor at a college in Connecticut who wrote an article in CounterPunch accusing me of association with Hindu extremism. Then, a few days ago, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, published an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, to which this site linked, that echoed the CounterPunch accusations. These attacks sadden me, but they share one other thing in common: the accusations are false.

    In reaction to these attacks, my closest friends — and many strangers — have rallied to my side. I am touched by this outpouring of support. And as painful as this episode has been for me personally, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with the seriousness that it deserves, but the conversation should proceed on the basis of verified facts and reasoned argument, not innuendo and defamation.

    Indian politics and history are contested and emotive, but also unfamiliar to most Americans. I understand why so many Indians and Indian-Americans feel strongly about religious extremism in India, because I share the same concerns.

    I am an American, and my political engagements have always and only been American. I served as a U.S. Treasury Department official for seven years, and now work on global development policy at Google.org. And I am honored to serve on the Presidential Transition Team of President-elect Obama while on leave from Google.org.

    I emigrated from India at the age of four, and grew up in Houston. Like many Americans, I remain proud of my heritage. But my engagement with India has been exclusively cultural and humanitarian. After the devastating earthquake in Gujarat in 2001, I worked on behalf of a consortium of Indian-American organizations to raise funds for humanitarian relief. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), an independent charity associated with the eponymous Indian political group, was among these organizations, and it was the only one to list my name on its website. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations, including the VHP-A, and have not worked with any of them since 2001.

    The experience with the Gujarat earthquake did, however, teach me an important lesson. It pointed up a lack of dedicated infrastructure to help alleviate suffering in India, so together with my brother and sister, I founded Indicorps, an organization modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps that enables young Indian-Americans to spend a year in service to marginalized communities in India. The fellows come from every religious background, and have worked among every religious community in India. Indeed, some Indicorps fellows focus on inter-faith dialogue as part of their projects.

    In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. 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 VHP of America.

    Sadly, CounterPunch and Senator Santorum have suggested that I somehow endorse that violence and the ongoing violence in Orissa. I do not – I deplore it. But more than that, I have worked against it, and will continue to do so. I have already denounced the groups at issue and am hopeful that we can begin to have an honest conversation about the ways immigrant and diaspora communities can engage constructively in social and humanitarian work abroad.”

  6. Mehul says:

    Sonal Shah did make a statement clarifying her position on issues, which is linked to but none of which was quoted above:

    I was recently maligned by a professor at a college in Connecticut who wrote an article in CounterPunch accusing me of association with Hindu extremism. Then, a few days ago, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, published an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, to which this site linked, that echoed the CounterPunch accusations. These attacks sadden me, but they share one other thing in common: the accusations are false.

    In reaction to these attacks, my closest friends — and many strangers — have rallied to my side. I am touched by this outpouring of support. And as painful as this episode has been for me personally, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue with the seriousness that it deserves, but the conversation should proceed on the basis of verified facts and reasoned argument, not innuendo and defamation.

    Indian politics and history are contested and emotive, but also unfamiliar to most Americans. I understand why so many Indians and Indian-Americans feel strongly about religious extremism in India, because I share the same concerns.

    I am an American, and my political engagements have always and only been American. I served as a U.S. Treasury Department official for seven years, and now work on global development policy at Google.org. And I am honored to serve on the Presidential Transition Team of President-elect Obama while on leave from Google.org.

    I emigrated from India at the age of four, and grew up in Houston. Like many Americans, I remain proud of my heritage. But my engagement with India has been exclusively cultural and humanitarian. After the devastating earthquake in Gujarat in 2001, I worked on behalf of a consortium of Indian-American organizations to raise funds for humanitarian relief. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP-A), an independent charity associated with the eponymous Indian political group, was among these organizations, and it was the only one to list my name on its website. I am not affiliated with any of these organizations, including the VHP-A, and have not worked with any of them since 2001.

    The experience with the Gujarat earthquake did, however, teach me an important lesson. It pointed up a lack of dedicated infrastructure to help alleviate suffering in India, so together with my brother and sister, I founded Indicorps, an organization modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps that enables young Indian-Americans to spend a year in service to marginalized communities in India. The fellows come from every religious background, and have worked among every religious community in India. Indeed, some Indicorps fellows focus on inter-faith dialogue as part of their projects.

    In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. 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 VHP of America.

    Sadly, CounterPunch and Senator Santorum have suggested that I somehow endorse that violence and the ongoing violence in Orissa. I do not – I deplore it. But more than that, I have worked against it, and will continue to do so. I have already denounced the groups at issue and am hopeful that we can begin to have an honest conversation about the ways immigrant and diaspora communities can engage constructively in social and humanitarian work abroad.

  7. Reema says:

    In no way do I support any hateful criticism that Shah has incurred.

    But I do think that a little extra scrutiny is warranted (or at least understandable) precisely b/c she's 'one of us' rising to a position that few of 'us' have attained- NOT out of hate/malignance/jealousy, but purely because of the representative status that she'll have.

    Even though her position wouldn't be an elected one, she'll be seen as a representative of the south asian community. And though she may not be a true representative (i.e. democratically elected), because she'll be perceived as one, I think it's perfectly understandable that people want someone in such a representative position to be someone who presents the community's best face, or their own interests/beliefs, or who they think IS a true rep.

    That said- it would be impossible for all south asians to rally behind any one person; some interest/ideological groups would have a problem with any possible candidate. So, even if the extra scrutiny is warranted/understandable, I don't think the outside public (non-south asians) should take it too seriously (unless there's some real consensus, which there isn't in this case).

    Jodha, I think your second question re the role of diasporic organizations is much more interesting than any speculation on Shah herself, but I'm not sure whether you're talking about organizational/individual culpability or something else entirely, and don't want to formulate the question into something you hadn't intended, so, like sizzle, i'll wait for you formulate that…

  8. sizzle says:

    I concur with Raja, couldn't have said it better myself.

    I am at great unease with Hindu nationalism and with those who empathize with the cause and goals of the ideology. That said, would Sonal Shah really be in a position to affect a policy positions that would bear negatively upon the Sikh community here or abroad? I think we tend to be hypercritical of South Asians because we feel that they come from certain predispositions towards many of the policy positions with which we are concerned (and I say “we” to reflect South Asians and as Sikhs). If this were a white person, we may feel, on a certain level, that they are not predisposed to a certain position due to their regionality or background, and thus more open to our own position and/or influence. Many times, the hypercriticalness proves true – and I think my little thesis statement could be expanded to how relate with other South Asians socially, politically, and professionally. However, here, I think the backlash towards her is unfounded, and there are a number of positives that may result from the appointment and visibility of a South Asian.

    I do think in many ways, the Khalistani analogy is very apt. Which is why I ask Jodha to expound upon this, “Sonal Shah’s situation in my opinion is more analagous to a person that went beyond only ideological affinities.”

  9. sizzle says:

    I concur with Raja, couldn’t have said it better myself.

    I am at great unease with Hindu nationalism and with those who empathize with the cause and goals of the ideology. That said, would Sonal Shah really be in a position to affect a policy positions that would bear negatively upon the Sikh community here or abroad? I think we tend to be hypercritical of South Asians because we feel that they come from certain predispositions towards many of the policy positions with which we are concerned (and I say we to reflect South Asians and as Sikhs). If this were a white person, we may feel, on a certain level, that they are not predisposed to a certain position due to their regionality or background, and thus more open to our own position and/or influence. Many times, the hypercriticalness proves true and I think my little thesis statement could be expanded to how relate with other South Asians socially, politically, and professionally. However, here, I think the backlash towards her is unfounded, and there are a number of positives that may result from the appointment and visibility of a South Asian.

    I do think in many ways, the Khalistani analogy is very apt. Which is why I ask Jodha to expound upon this, Sonal Shahs situation in my opinion is more analagous to a person that went beyond only ideological affinities.

  10. Vikram Bajwa says:

    Sonal Shah is Indi-american Pride!

  11. Vikram Bajwa says:

    Sonal Shah is Indi-american Pride!

  12. Teg says:

    Sonal Shah is a very accomplished, bright and promising American. I am sure that she does not share the reprehensible views/actions of RSS/VHP and the entire Hindu fascist/terrorist family. But where she erred was that she did not criticize or distance herself from RSS/VHP/bajrang Dal when it was crystal clear to every one and most of all to all Gujratis that Nareder Modi along with RSS/Bajrang Dal were directly responsible for orchestrating the massacre of more than 200 innocent Muslims and gang rape of their women(not riots as Indian Media/ Sonal Shah has mentioned) so that BJP can win the next general elections in Gujarat by polarizing the Hindu vote.

    I am not sure but there are reports that she has met butcher Narendera Modi personally after the Gujarat massacre. Therefore her apology and its timing will look more a matter of convenience because she is being vetted for a job in the White House.

    Let me again emphasize that Sonal Shah must be a wonderful person who DOES NOT share fascist views of RSS family but may now be sadly tainted because of the so called "guilt by association".

  13. Teg says:

    Sonal Shah is a very accomplished, bright and promising American. I am sure that she does not share the reprehensible views/actions of RSS/VHP and the entire Hindu fascist/terrorist family. But where she erred was that she did not criticize or distance herself from RSS/VHP/bajrang Dal when it was crystal clear to every one and most of all to all Gujratis that Nareder Modi along with RSS/Bajrang Dal were directly responsible for orchestrating the massacre of more than 200 innocent Muslims and gang rape of their women(not riots as Indian Media/ Sonal Shah has mentioned) so that BJP can win the next general elections in Gujarat by polarizing the Hindu vote.

    I am not sure but there are reports that she has met butcher Narendera Modi personally after the Gujarat massacre. Therefore her apology and its timing will look more a matter of convenience because she is being vetted for a job in the White House.

    Let me again emphasize that Sonal Shah must be a wonderful person who DOES NOT share fascist views of RSS family but may now be sadly tainted because of the so called “guilt by association”.

  14. Raja says:

    Sizzle, great points.

    I am not one for engaging in rumors as it feels like so much associated with Shah at this point are unsubstantiated rumors. I think once everything is out in the open, we will be able to gain a better understanding.

    Just to expand on Sizzle's point. I always find it jaw dropping that so many minorities, especially South Asians in the news have an almost aura around them of fault. White politicians have gotten away with alot worst than what Shah is even being accused of. There are politicians in Senate and House (even in Canada), that have said openly prejudice statements, and have more than shaky pasts, however are rarely questioned to the extent that our own community has beaten down Shah. To say the least, I find it interesting that Sonal Shah has garnered such interest.

    Like I said this environment of self doubt and borderline hatred in the South Asian community needs to stop. I am a Punjabi, but when I see a Sri Lankan, a Gujrati, or whatever have you prosper, I feel as if it is a step forward for our entire community. South Asians will continue to have an uphill climb for decades to come, especially with the onset of the young 2nd generation individuals that will eventually rise to the forefront of the North American consciousness.

    We, as a community have suffered be it prejudice from the media, to prejudice by the population. We as a community have been minimalized, marginalized and objectified in interest of keeping the pecking social order intact. The last thing we want to do as a community is to indirectly support these notions. We, should be questioning her associations, no doubt, but in the extremely hateful, doubtful and naive manner that seems to be happening today is definitely not the right way. She is a successful member of our community, who is proud of her heritage, something that is rare and which in most cases in the US and Canada is repressed.

  15. Raja says:

    Sizzle, great points.

    I am not one for engaging in rumors as it feels like so much associated with Shah at this point are unsubstantiated rumors. I think once everything is out in the open, we will be able to gain a better understanding.

    Just to expand on Sizzle’s point. I always find it jaw dropping that so many minorities, especially South Asians in the news have an almost aura around them of fault. White politicians have gotten away with alot worst than what Shah is even being accused of. There are politicians in Senate and House (even in Canada), that have said openly prejudice statements, and have more than shaky pasts, however are rarely questioned to the extent that our own community has beaten down Shah. To say the least, I find it interesting that Sonal Shah has garnered such interest.

    Like I said this environment of self doubt and borderline hatred in the South Asian community needs to stop. I am a Punjabi, but when I see a Sri Lankan, a Gujrati, or whatever have you prosper, I feel as if it is a step forward for our entire community. South Asians will continue to have an uphill climb for decades to come, especially with the onset of the young 2nd generation individuals that will eventually rise to the forefront of the North American consciousness.

    We, as a community have suffered be it prejudice from the media, to prejudice by the population. We as a community have been minimalized, marginalized and objectified in interest of keeping the pecking social order intact. The last thing we want to do as a community is to indirectly support these notions. We, should be questioning her associations, no doubt, but in the extremely hateful, doubtful and naive manner that seems to be happening today is definitely not the right way. She is a successful member of our community, who is proud of her heritage, something that is rare and which in most cases in the US and Canada is repressed.

  16. Raja says:

    [quote comment="9737"]

    We, should be questioning her associations, no doubt, but in the extremely hateful, doubtful and naive manner that seems to be happening today is definitely not the right way.[/quote]

    Just to clarify, this was not directed to the author. I agreed with a lot of the statments "Jodha" made. I am officially a Langar Hall addict. I love the issues this site raises, and the people who post seem to be well informed people who look at issues with respect, which is rare these days.

  17. Raja says:

    [quote comment=”9737″]
    We, should be questioning her associations, no doubt, but in the extremely hateful, doubtful and naive manner that seems to be happening today is definitely not the right way.[/quote]

    Just to clarify, this was not directed to the author. I agreed with a lot of the statments “Jodha” made. I am officially a Langar Hall addict. I love the issues this site raises, and the people who post seem to be well informed people who look at issues with respect, which is rare these days.

  18. Reema says:

    In no way do I support any hateful criticism that Shah has incurred.

    But I do think that a little extra scrutiny is warranted (or at least understandable) precisely b/c she’s ‘one of us’ rising to a position that few of ‘us’ have attained- NOT out of hate/malignance/jealousy, but purely because of the representative status that she’ll have.

    Even though her position wouldn’t be an elected one, she’ll be seen as a representative of the south asian community. And though she may not be a true representative (i.e. democratically elected), because she’ll be perceived as one, I think it’s perfectly understandable that people want someone in such a representative position to be someone who presents the community’s best face, or their own interests/beliefs, or who they think IS a true rep.

    That said- it would be impossible for all south asians to rally behind any one person; some interest/ideological groups would have a problem with any possible candidate. So, even if the extra scrutiny is warranted/understandable, I don’t think the outside public (non-south asians) should take it too seriously (unless there’s some real consensus, which there isn’t in this case).

    Jodha, I think your second question re the role of diasporic organizations is much more interesting than any speculation on Shah herself, but I’m not sure whether you’re talking about organizational/individual culpability or something else entirely, and don’t want to formulate the question into something you hadn’t intended, so, like sizzle, i’ll wait for you formulate that…

  19. Jodha says:

    Sizzle,

    First off I do agree with you about your 'hypercritical' thesis. I don't think Sonal Shah will be creating policy on Pakistan. That's not why they brought her on. If we want to end the discussion there we can.

    However, since you are asking me about the Khalistani analogy – this is in reference to someone having Khalistani leanings or beliefs versus openly campaigning for an organization that has been involved in violence. I know when it comes to the issue of Khalistan, people conflate the two, but I do believe they need to be kept separate. Sonal Shah may/may not have Hindutva leanings, but she has definitely campaigned and been part of the leadership of such organizations (even if it was for their 'charity' wings).

    The difference I am drawing in a Khalistani context is as follows:

    1) It is one thing if your father is Gurmit Singh Aulakh (head of the Council of Khalistan), Didar Singh Bains, etc. or any other Khalistani idealogue (past, present, etc). That means nothing.

    2) It is different to even give a speech at some "Khalistani Youth Symposium" (nothing like this exists, but if it did exist). Here you may have some nationalist sentiments, but you are free to your opinion.

    3)It is different to speak at some conference organized by Dasmesh Regiment. Although not banned by any country, they are known to have engaged in violence and have violently tried to attain a separate Sikh homeland (VHP activists were active in the destruction of the Babri Masjid). Maybe you don't support all their views, but you helped them raise money for their 'charity' wing.

    Of the 3, Sonal Shah, in my opinion, came closest to #3 and that is sort of the worst of all. However, again, in saying all this and my opinion aside, I still subscribe to your 'hypercritical' argument and all this may or may not be irrelevant. However, the flip side to this is just as I don't think Sonal Shah will have much of an effect negative on South Asian Americans or South Asians in general, I would also then hesitate to say:

    there are a number of positives that may result from the appointment and visibility of a South Asian

    As other than just a brown face in the IT department (which is sort of what we are saying) what other 'positive' will be accrued?

  20. Jodha says:

    Sizzle,

    First off I do agree with you about your ‘hypercritical’ thesis. I don’t think Sonal Shah will be creating policy on Pakistan. That’s not why they brought her on. If we want to end the discussion there we can.

    However, since you are asking me about the Khalistani analogy – this is in reference to someone having Khalistani leanings or beliefs versus openly campaigning for an organization that has been involved in violence. I know when it comes to the issue of Khalistan, people conflate the two, but I do believe they need to be kept separate. Sonal Shah may/may not have Hindutva leanings, but she has definitely campaigned and been part of the leadership of such organizations (even if it was for their ‘charity’ wings).

    The difference I am drawing in a Khalistani context is as follows:

    1) It is one thing if your father is Gurmit Singh Aulakh (head of the Council of Khalistan), Didar Singh Bains, etc. or any other Khalistani idealogue (past, present, etc). That means nothing.

    2) It is different to even give a speech at some “Khalistani Youth Symposium” (nothing like this exists, but if it did exist). Here you may have some nationalist sentiments, but you are free to your opinion.

    3)It is different to speak at some conference organized by Dasmesh Regiment. Although not banned by any country, they are known to have engaged in violence and have violently tried to attain a separate Sikh homeland (VHP activists were active in the destruction of the Babri Masjid). Maybe you don’t support all their views, but you helped them raise money for their ‘charity’ wing.

    Of the 3, Sonal Shah, in my opinion, came closest to #3 and that is sort of the worst of all. However, again, in saying all this and my opinion aside, I still subscribe to your ‘hypercritical’ argument and all this may or may not be irrelevant. However, the flip side to this is just as I don’t think Sonal Shah will have much of an effect negative on South Asian Americans or South Asians in general, I would also then hesitate to say:

    there are a number of positives that may result from the appointment and visibility of a South Asian

    As other than just a brown face in the IT department (which is sort of what we are saying) what other ‘positive’ will be accrued?

  21. Akhil says:

    I like the different opinions being expressed and this discussion has parallels to other South Asian communities.

    Does someone have a link to Sonal Shah's full statement?

    I personally think, she has a little more explaning to do. And I want to understand precisely whether she was involved with VHPA prior to 2001 or not?

    >>>

    In her first statement she said her only association with VHPA was charitable. However, later it was confirmed that she had been the Governing Council Board member prior to 2001 when she was its Relief Coordinator.

    In her second statement (as I read on Mehul's post on this website) she said had she predicted the Gujarat riots, she would not have associated with VHPA.

    >>

    What are we to make of these two statements? Was she involved with VHPA or not?

  22. Akhil says:

    I like the different opinions being expressed and this discussion has parallels to other South Asian communities.

    Does someone have a link to Sonal Shah’s full statement?

    I personally think, she has a little more explaning to do. And I want to understand precisely whether she was involved with VHPA prior to 2001 or not?
    >>>
    In her first statement she said her only association with VHPA was charitable. However, later it was confirmed that she had been the Governing Council Board member prior to 2001 when she was its Relief Coordinator.

    In her second statement (as I read on Mehul’s post on this website) she said had she predicted the Gujarat riots, she would not have associated with VHPA.
    >>

    What are we to make of these two statements? Was she involved with VHPA or not?

  23. sizzle says:

    Jodha – solid points. I must profess I am not as familiar with her background as I probably should be, which is why I sought your clarification. I plan to read up a little more now.

    I still think, though, that we are treading a fine line. These are very nuanced points we are discussing that as South Asians who think about such positions critically on a regular basis, are forced to confront. To an outsider, even a highly educated outsider who may not have a vested or emotional interest in one position or another, the argument may be a wash. I think your analysis can be applied objectively to the member, former member or sympathizer of any number of organizations that have muddled, if not violent, histories. Those that come to mind are the Nation of Islam, the Anti-Defamation League, Irgun (Rahm Emmanuel's father's organization), Sinn Fein, and many, many others. And you know what? it should be. People should be vetted to the liking of the public, the democratic body.

    Obviously, I'd like to see the RSS and other related organizations undermined. But not at all costs. The upside to having Shah as a prominent member of Obama's cabinet is the achievement of a South Asian, a representative figure from our community. She would not be token, as she is highly accomplished. Indeed, despite our doubts about her position, she would most likely to a solid job and most relevantly, wouldn't have the opportunity to effect any of her possibly objectionable views or psotions. So, what is the downside? If she were deemed unfit, so be it. But if we, as the Indian community, torpedoed her nomination from internally, over points that most outsiders (other Americans) might view as somewhat trivial, I think that damages our overall political capital as minority group.

    I don't proffer a position that we should fall into lockstep behind any South Asian. In a way, I find it incredibly difficult to support a Bobby Jindal, though he is highly qualified and I may sympathize with 75% of his policy positions. But here is a woman that is highly qualified, was part of Obama's team (which most of us supported), may be nominated to a powerful position with high visibility, is at least interested in South Asia and South Asian politics, has roots to the community, would be a prominent figure head, would be checked by other administration officials over whom we may have some influce, but has some muddled history over which WE CANNOT EVEN AGREE. In addition to the upside of having a qualified and mostly agreeable South Asian as a symbol in the position, I just see a downside to attacking her. It's just somewhere I think we should tread lightly, and save our political clout to criticize someone who more deserves it.

    I hope that makes some sense for the discussion. Hell, i may change my mind as to if she is deserving of my rationale as i learn more…

  24. sizzle says:

    Jodha – solid points. I must profess I am not as familiar with her background as I probably should be, which is why I sought your clarification. I plan to read up a little more now.

    I still think, though, that we are treading a fine line. These are very nuanced points we are discussing that as South Asians who think about such positions critically on a regular basis, are forced to confront. To an outsider, even a highly educated outsider who may not have a vested or emotional interest in one position or another, the argument may be a wash. I think your analysis can be applied objectively to the member, former member or sympathizer of any number of organizations that have muddled, if not violent, histories. Those that come to mind are the Nation of Islam, the Anti-Defamation League, Irgun (Rahm Emmanuel’s father’s organization), Sinn Fein, and many, many others. And you know what? it should be. People should be vetted to the liking of the public, the democratic body.

    Obviously, I’d like to see the RSS and other related organizations undermined. But not at all costs. The upside to having Shah as a prominent member of Obama’s cabinet is the achievement of a South Asian, a representative figure from our community. She would not be token, as she is highly accomplished. Indeed, despite our doubts about her position, she would most likely to a solid job and most relevantly, wouldn’t have the opportunity to effect any of her possibly objectionable views or psotions. So, what is the downside? If she were deemed unfit, so be it. But if we, as the Indian community, torpedoed her nomination from internally, over points that most outsiders (other Americans) might view as somewhat trivial, I think that damages our overall political capital as minority group.

    I don’t proffer a position that we should fall into lockstep behind any South Asian. In a way, I find it incredibly difficult to support a Bobby Jindal, though he is highly qualified and I may sympathize with 75% of his policy positions. But here is a woman that is highly qualified, was part of Obama’s team (which most of us supported), may be nominated to a powerful position with high visibility, is at least interested in South Asia and South Asian politics, has roots to the community, would be a prominent figure head, would be checked by other administration officials over whom we may have some influce, but has some muddled history over which WE CANNOT EVEN AGREE. In addition to the upside of having a qualified and mostly agreeable South Asian as a symbol in the position, I just see a downside to attacking her. It’s just somewhere I think we should tread lightly, and save our political clout to criticize someone who more deserves it.

    I hope that makes some sense for the discussion. Hell, i may change my mind as to if she is deserving of my rationale as i learn more…

  25. Raja says:

    I think one thing I have realized, which took a long time to, is that secularism is South Asia's biggest fight; I think this is exemplified in the Sonal Shah debate. I remember reading Amardeep's blog and link that he provided had a interesting realtion to what is going on with South Asians today… There is a term "crab mentality". Crab mentality is the thought that when crabs are placed in the bucket, another crab, or a group of crabs will pull another crab down that may escape.

    South Asians have a distinct ability to drive forth their differences and separations. Secualrism is easy. Driving wedges between you and those who have done you wrong, is easy. Claiming distinctiveness with an underlying feeling of inferiority/superiority is easy. The hardest thought, an act that requires evolving of one's character, and a true informed being, is to connect with the person that seemingly differs from you in every manner. You have to realize that the Pakistani Times, who is the same newspapaer organization that claimed the attacks that occured in Mumbai is an Indian coverup, had a lot to do with the accusations put forth about Shah. Not that the country has anything to do with it, be it is another example of regional differences at odds with the success of one of our community members.

    I remember my cousin who lived in Iowa telling me about a desi member of the community running from some political position. He was told to his face, that he had no chance distinctly because the colour of his skin and his heritage. I think about that example and so many others of desi's being push aside in the political forum, and to think that Shah has the chance to be a huge part of one of the most historical teams in history gives me goosebumps. All of us have experienced our identity being reduced. To see Sonal Shah, a woman actually PROUD of where she has come from, be slaughtered by these unconfirmed rumors is nothing sort of depressing.

    Jodha, I understand that you believe she may have hade connections to those groups in a non-direct sense. Underlying that thought is that she shared ideologies with those groups. If one did not believe that, then her contributions would not have raised any questions. I think that we are pushing these connections to Shah which are just speaking to our communal hatred. Its the greatest fight we will have as a community. I think there are one's working towards prosperity and others trying to bring them down to their level, I just think that Shah should stop paying attention to these rumors and not play in the mud.

    I think everyone should read Dr. Larry Brilliant's commentary on Shah. He ran the WHO team that eradicated small pox from the planet.He founded the Seva Foundation, which along with Aravind Eye Hospitals have given eye sight back to millions. He is now the Exec Director of Google.org, where he was responsible for hiring Sonal Shah. This is his take on Sonal:

    I hired Sonal Shah at Google, actually Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google after an exhaustive search to find someone with the sharpest mind and purest heart to help bring resources and technology to the poorest of the poor. She has done that magnificently and she has become a leader of Google.org and an inspiration to us.

    For background: I'm a sort of wannabe Desi, having lived in India for more than 10 years working all over India as a medical officer on the WHO campaign which eradicated smallpox from India and all of South Asia, and later working on polio eradication in Uttar Pradesh. I started the Seva Foundation and along with our partner, Aravind Eye Hospital, we have been giving back sight to millions of blind people in India. Because of that background, I've had the honor of working with some of the best sons and daughters that India has given life to—-J R D Tata was my mentor for many years; Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy my teacher and partner in conquering blindness, India's Commissioner of Health, MID Sharma called me "son" until his death, and Karan Singh invited me to become an honorary Indian. Most important of all, Neem Karoli Baba became my guru in 1972 and I've been a chela ever since. Let me tell you straight away that as many wonderful people that the good Lord has allowed me to meet and work with, there is no finer person I have met than Sonal Shah. I've read the comments about her — alleging "communal hatred" and they are beyond absurd. Sonal has not a bone, not a muscle, not a cell, not a strand of DNA with bigotry. She is one of the best, the brightest, the kindest, open minded and inclusive souls, and one of the most talented that my beloved India, my adopted homeland, has produced.

    Please help stop the real bigots who are maligning her, stop circulating their venom. Remind them, please, that the path to heaven is closed for those who bear false witness against their neighbors. When I was working in India to eradicate smallpox, my associate Zafar Hussain and an imam in Lucknow "took me under their wings" and helped me study the Koran, to understand Islam better. I remember so vividly when they taught me about pul-e-sirat, the bridge from this world to heaven. The soul must cross this bridge, as narrow as a knife's edge, constantly pulled down by the sins of a lifetime. One of the worst sins, the worst obstacles to crossing pul-e-sirat into Heaven or Paradise was the sin of bearing false witness against a good person.

    Sonal Shah is a credit to India, a credit to the Obama transition, a credit to America and a friend to all who know her. Let's rally around this remarkable woman and support her against false accusations and innuendos and let's pray for her success in helping create an Obama Administration that can help heal this broken and divided world. The stakes are too high for false divisiveness and petty fabrications. Sonal will help make "Hindi-Yankee bhai bhai" stronger and better and we all need to support her in building this friendship.

    Larry Brilliant MD MPH FACPM D.Sc (hon) D.LH (hon)

  26. Raja says:

    I think one thing I have realized, which took a long time to, is that secularism is South Asia’s biggest fight; I think this is exemplified in the Sonal Shah debate. I remember reading Amardeep’s blog and link that he provided had a interesting realtion to what is going on with South Asians today… There is a term “crab mentality”. Crab mentality is the thought that when crabs are placed in the bucket, another crab, or a group of crabs will pull another crab down that may escape.

    South Asians have a distinct ability to drive forth their differences and separations. Secualrism is easy. Driving wedges between you and those who have done you wrong, is easy. Claiming distinctiveness with an underlying feeling of inferiority/superiority is easy. The hardest thought, an act that requires evolving of one’s character, and a true informed being, is to connect with the person that seemingly differs from you in every manner. You have to realize that the Pakistani Times, who is the same newspapaer organization that claimed the attacks that occured in Mumbai is an Indian coverup, had a lot to do with the accusations put forth about Shah. Not that the country has anything to do with it, be it is another example of regional differences at odds with the success of one of our community members.

    I remember my cousin who lived in Iowa telling me about a desi member of the community running from some political position. He was told to his face, that he had no chance distinctly because the colour of his skin and his heritage. I think about that example and so many others of desi’s being push aside in the political forum, and to think that Shah has the chance to be a huge part of one of the most historical teams in history gives me goosebumps. All of us have experienced our identity being reduced. To see Sonal Shah, a woman actually PROUD of where she has come from, be slaughtered by these unconfirmed rumors is nothing sort of depressing.

    Jodha, I understand that you believe she may have hade connections to those groups in a non-direct sense. Underlying that thought is that she shared ideologies with those groups. If one did not believe that, then her contributions would not have raised any questions. I think that we are pushing these connections to Shah which are just speaking to our communal hatred. Its the greatest fight we will have as a community. I think there are one’s working towards prosperity and others trying to bring them down to their level, I just think that Shah should stop paying attention to these rumors and not play in the mud.

    I think everyone should read Dr. Larry Brilliant’s commentary on Shah. He ran the WHO team that eradicated small pox from the planet.He founded the Seva Foundation, which along with Aravind Eye Hospitals have given eye sight back to millions. He is now the Exec Director of Google.org, where he was responsible for hiring Sonal Shah. This is his take on Sonal:

    I hired Sonal Shah at Google, actually Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google after an exhaustive search to find someone with the sharpest mind and purest heart to help bring resources and technology to the poorest of the poor. She has done that magnificently and she has become a leader of Google.org and an inspiration to us.

    For background: I’m a sort of wannabe Desi, having lived in India for more than 10 years working all over India as a medical officer on the WHO campaign which eradicated smallpox from India and all of South Asia, and later working on polio eradication in Uttar Pradesh. I started the Seva Foundation and along with our partner, Aravind Eye Hospital, we have been giving back sight to millions of blind people in India. Because of that background, I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best sons and daughters that India has given life to—-J R D Tata was my mentor for many years; Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy my teacher and partner in conquering blindness, India’s Commissioner of Health, MID Sharma called me “son” until his death, and Karan Singh invited me to become an honorary Indian. Most important of all, Neem Karoli Baba became my guru in 1972 and I’ve been a chela ever since. Let me tell you straight away that as many wonderful people that the good Lord has allowed me to meet and work with, there is no finer person I have met than Sonal Shah. I’ve read the comments about her — alleging “communal hatred” and they are beyond absurd. Sonal has not a bone, not a muscle, not a cell, not a strand of DNA with bigotry. She is one of the best, the brightest, the kindest, open minded and inclusive souls, and one of the most talented that my beloved India, my adopted homeland, has produced.

    Please help stop the real bigots who are maligning her, stop circulating their venom. Remind them, please, that the path to heaven is closed for those who bear false witness against their neighbors. When I was working in India to eradicate smallpox, my associate Zafar Hussain and an imam in Lucknow “took me under their wings” and helped me study the Koran, to understand Islam better. I remember so vividly when they taught me about pul-e-sirat, the bridge from this world to heaven. The soul must cross this bridge, as narrow as a knife’s edge, constantly pulled down by the sins of a lifetime. One of the worst sins, the worst obstacles to crossing pul-e-sirat into Heaven or Paradise was the sin of bearing false witness against a good person.

    Sonal Shah is a credit to India, a credit to the Obama transition, a credit to America and a friend to all who know her. Let’s rally around this remarkable woman and support her against false accusations and innuendos and let’s pray for her success in helping create an Obama Administration that can help heal this broken and divided world. The stakes are too high for false divisiveness and petty fabrications. Sonal will help make “Hindi-Yankee bhai bhai” stronger and better and we all need to support her in building this friendship.

    Larry Brilliant MD MPH FACPM D.Sc (hon) D.LH (hon)

  27. Visitor says:

    Dear Jodha: Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful post, and to others for the discussion. FYI: some documentation of Sonal Shah's connections to the Sangh Parivar can be found here.

  28. Visitor says:

    Dear Jodha: Thank you for this detailed and thoughtful post, and to others for the discussion. FYI: some documentation of Sonal Shah’s connections to the Sangh Parivar can be found here.

  29. Kohl S Gill says:

    Hi, all. I think I may be the first person to post here who knows Sonal Shah well. I wouldn't have much to add, as I think most of the folks here (Raja, Sizzle, Jodha, etc.) are hitting the right points on the need for actual facts, looking at her background and statement and statements of her supporters at least as much as the background and statements of Prashad, Santorum and her detractors. But the sight of Visitor's link to a wiki-looking page – set up to look a lot like Wikipedia, perhaps, but without the ability for readers to edit or even leave comments – was a bit much for me.

    I am Sikh (though not keshadhari), and I volunteered with Indicorps and met Sonal and her siblings Anand and Roopal in 2005-6. I worked as a paralegal -no small stretch for a physicist! – on an anti-corruption project with various secular NGOs in Delhi, and was blessed with the opportunity to do amazing work with amazing people. It was one of the most important experiences in my life.

    What hasn't been clearly enunciated is that Indicorps, and the message of unity and justice that it stands for, is exactly the response of the Shah siblings to the atrocities witnessed by us all.

    I never felt any Hindu nationalist or Hindutva pressure at all during my entire time with anyone I worked with, including and especially the Shah siblings. I know their drive and determination to find real solutions to these very real problems, and I am proud to be affiliated with them. I would be happy to respond to any criticisms of Sonal that folks may have, as much as I am able.

    This is a great topic, and I'm a bit saddened that it took this incident for me to discover TLH.

    To me, the real question is whether and how to engage with folks on the periphery of extremist groups. No group is monolithic, and some folks can be peeled away when offered a viable alternative of progressivism and hope. I think there is a lot of meat to that debate in our community, and am happy to see it continue here. I hope I can participate.

  30. Kohl S Gill says:

    Hi, all. I think I may be the first person to post here who knows Sonal Shah well. I wouldn’t have much to add, as I think most of the folks here (Raja, Sizzle, Jodha, etc.) are hitting the right points on the need for actual facts, looking at her background and statement and statements of her supporters at least as much as the background and statements of Prashad, Santorum and her detractors. But the sight of Visitor’s link to a wiki-looking page – set up to look a lot like Wikipedia, perhaps, but without the ability for readers to edit or even leave comments – was a bit much for me.

    I am Sikh (though not keshadhari), and I volunteered with Indicorps and met Sonal and her siblings Anand and Roopal in 2005-6. I worked as a paralegal -no small stretch for a physicist! – on an anti-corruption project with various secular NGOs in Delhi, and was blessed with the opportunity to do amazing work with amazing people. It was one of the most important experiences in my life.

    What hasn’t been clearly enunciated is that Indicorps, and the message of unity and justice that it stands for, is exactly the response of the Shah siblings to the atrocities witnessed by us all.

    I never felt any Hindu nationalist or Hindutva pressure at all during my entire time with anyone I worked with, including and especially the Shah siblings. I know their drive and determination to find real solutions to these very real problems, and I am proud to be affiliated with them. I would be happy to respond to any criticisms of Sonal that folks may have, as much as I am able.

    This is a great topic, and I’m a bit saddened that it took this incident for me to discover TLH.

    To me, the real question is whether and how to engage with folks on the periphery of extremist groups. No group is monolithic, and some folks can be peeled away when offered a viable alternative of progressivism and hope. I think there is a lot of meat to that debate in our community, and am happy to see it continue here. I hope I can participate.

  31. Jodha says:

    Sizzle – I think we are on the same page on this one. Like I said I have no clue or not whether she has Hindutva leanings or not (but to be honest everyone is free to their own opinion). Her organizational linkages are what is in question (although they may not even really matter her particular position on the transition team). However, you have to clarify one statement to me. You wrote:

    But if we, as the Indian community, torpedoed her nomination from internally, over points that most outsiders (other Americans) might view as somewhat trivial, I think that damages our overall political capital as minority group.

    This last statement I do not quite follow, as it was not our demographic political capital that put her in this position. It was her individual initiative, experiences, and clout. This is why I do not see it really having long-term ramifications whether certain secular South Asians are successful in generating enough questions and publicity to have her step down.

    Kohl – welcome to The Langar Hall!

  32. Jodha says:

    Sizzle – I think we are on the same page on this one. Like I said I have no clue or not whether she has Hindutva leanings or not (but to be honest everyone is free to their own opinion). Her organizational linkages are what is in question (although they may not even really matter her particular position on the transition team). However, you have to clarify one statement to me. You wrote:

    But if we, as the Indian community, torpedoed her nomination from internally, over points that most outsiders (other Americans) might view as somewhat trivial, I think that damages our overall political capital as minority group.

    This last statement I do not quite follow, as it was not our demographic political capital that put her in this position. It was her individual initiative, experiences, and clout. This is why I do not see it really having long-term ramifications whether certain secular South Asians are successful in generating enough questions and publicity to have her step down.

    Kohl – welcome to The Langar Hall!

  33. Balu says:

    What is wrong in associating with VHP or RSS? They run thousands of Sewa projects. VHP even runs priest training camps for Dalits. Of course the white anglo saxon protestant media will never mention any of that. In fact, in Punjab, there are Sikhs who go to shakha. In the UK also, I have met a couple of Sikhs who attend HSS there. There are Muslims also who do go to RSS shakha in India. It is ridiculous to associate RSS with Lashkar-e-Toiba and such type of terrorist groups. Remember that it is the so-called "Fanatic" BJP who first nominated Abdul Kalam to be president. All RSS leaders admire him. The same old nonsensical arguments against RSS is just like saying there are WMD in Iraq.

    Sonal was asked by VHPA to work for earthquake relief and she did. What's wrong in that? But for the last so many years, her focus has been Indicorps which is an excellent project which has inspired youth to give back to their ancestral country. How can anything be wrong with that? This whole episode smacks of McCarthyism and I thought that was dead way back in 1953. I guess not :-(

  34. Balu says:

    What is wrong in associating with VHP or RSS? They run thousands of Sewa projects. VHP even runs priest training camps for Dalits. Of course the white anglo saxon protestant media will never mention any of that. In fact, in Punjab, there are Sikhs who go to shakha. In the UK also, I have met a couple of Sikhs who attend HSS there. There are Muslims also who do go to RSS shakha in India. It is ridiculous to associate RSS with Lashkar-e-Toiba and such type of terrorist groups. Remember that it is the so-called “Fanatic” BJP who first nominated Abdul Kalam to be president. All RSS leaders admire him. The same old nonsensical arguments against RSS is just like saying there are WMD in Iraq.

    Sonal was asked by VHPA to work for earthquake relief and she did. What’s wrong in that? But for the last so many years, her focus has been Indicorps which is an excellent project which has inspired youth to give back to their ancestral country. How can anything be wrong with that? This whole episode smacks of McCarthyism and I thought that was dead way back in 1953. I guess not :-(

  35. Take a look at this link. Looks like Sonal isn't as innocent as she claims…

  36. Take a look at this link. Looks like Sonal isn’t as innocent as she claims…

  37. sizzle says:

    oh boy. this might anger some of you. while i was pretty wishy washy on the whole sonal shah as an obama appointee debate, this is pretty ludicrous.

    http://www.sikhinauguralball.com/

  38. sizzle says:

    oh boy. this might anger some of you. while i was pretty wishy washy on the whole sonal shah as an obama appointee debate, this is pretty ludicrous.

    http://www.sikhinauguralball.com/

  39. Jodha says:

    Where is she now?

    Sonal Shah Heads Obama’s Office of Social Innovation

    Sonal Shah, who formerly led Google Global Development Initiatives, the philanthropic arm of Google.com, has been appointed head of the new Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House, the Obama administration informed India-West April 14.

  40. Jodha says:

    Where is she now?

    Sonal Shah Heads Obamas Office of Social Innovation

    Sonal Shah, who formerly led Google Global Development Initiatives, the philanthropic arm of Google.com, has been appointed head of the new Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House, the Obama administration informed India-West April 14.