Controversy Derails Sonal Shah

Under growing public pressure from progressive Indian American groups, Sonal Shah, a member of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition advisory board, who was rumored to be under consideration for a cabinet position, has denounced the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, with whom she was affiliated seven years year.

In a statement, Shah, who is head of the Google Foundation, said she would never had associated with the organization had she foreseen the role of the VHP in the communal violence in Gujarat in 2002, which killed over 1,000 people. “Had I been able to forsee the role of the VHP 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.”

Shah has come under blistering attack from progressive Indian American groups since her appointment to Obama’s transition team.

In her email plea to supporters Shah, who was once reportedly under consideration for secretary of energy, a position since awarded to Nobel physics laureate Steven Chu, pleaded with them to push back against the attacks: “I need your help. This is gaining legs as the National Journal also picked it up and likely Fox. I need to mobilize people against the leftists and the right wing. There is a likely chance that they (the Obama team) will ask me to resign as team does not need my publicity.”

Shah’s denunciation of the VHP has not mollified her critics. Dr. Shaik Ubaid, founder of the Coalition Against Genocide, said: “I am saddened and disappointed by Ms. Sonal Shah’s statement. It is disingenuous that she who was raised in a Hindutva family, says that she was not aware of the Hindu-supremacist and violent ideology of Hindutva movement.”

Shah’s denunciation of VHP America has tempered the enthusiastic support she received from its members in the early stages of the controversy. However, Sanjay Puri, chairman of the political action group, USINPAC, defends her, asserting: “While some members of the Indian-American community may have objected to her appointment, I want to assure you that the majority of Indian-Americans of different religious background support her and what she represents for America… We believe she is highly deserving of the position she has been given in the Presidential Transition Team and look forward to watching her continued success.”

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