In Defense of Sonal Shah [Updated w/statement from Sonal]

Last week Abhi did a post on Sonal Shah, who is working for the Obama transition team. Over the weekend, however, a controversy erupted over Shah, who has worked for the Center for American Progress and Google.org (the philanthropic arm of Google), and who has started, with her siblings, a do-good organization called Indicorps.

Vijay Prashad makes some very harsh accusations in an article in Counterpunch, basically suggesting that Sonal Shah is a supporter of a Hindu right organization, the VHP.

The accusations have been widely covered in the Indian media, including The Hindustan Times, TOI, and DNA. Most of those are simply echoing the statements made by Prashad. I have also been getting emails from left-leaning Indian academic friends, who are outraged about Sonal Shah.

I am skeptical about Prashad’s accusations. First, I think it’s important to keep a little perspective: Sonal Shah has been hired because of her experience with Google.Org and Center for American Progress, not because of her former affiliation with the VHP-A. She is also not actually working for the “Obama administration” — she is working on the team that will hire people to work for the Obama administration. If and when she has an official government post, and especially if that post has something to do with policy on India, this kind of scrutiny might be merited. Right now, it is not.

Second, Prashad’s accusations against Sonal Shah smell like a smear — not so different from Sarah Palin saying Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists.” I have no idea whether Sonal Shah is secretly sympathetic to the VHP or not; I do not believe so. [UPDATE: We now have a statement from Sonal Shah, through her brother: here. The statement has been verified through another source.] But given that she has not made a public statement in response to Prashad’s most recent accusations, We should probably respond to Shah based on her actions and verified statements, not on her parents’ beliefs (the worst kind of guilt-by-association), not on her past membership in the VHP-A (which is not disputed), and not on what Vijay Prashad says she said at some Desi conference years ago. In this decade, and in the work she is best known for, Sonal Shah has clearly been on the right side of things.

Vijay Prashad wants to paint a very particular image of Sonal Shah, as a kind of die-hard Hindu chauvinist, who continues to harbor secret communal hatreds, even if she has not made public statements to that effect, is not formally affiliated with any relevant groups, and has been doing valuable social work with Google.Org and Indicorps. But that is just one narrative. One could easily construct a counter-narrative along these lines: Sonal Shah’s parents are in fact supporters of the VHP, and are friends of Narendra Modi. As an ABD growing up in Texas, she had little awareness of the destructive and intolerant nature of Hindu nationalism, and when the opportunity came around to work with VHP-A to raise money for earthquake victims in Gujarat in 2001, she took it. But perhaps, with maturity, and as she took a higher profile role in the organization, she also began to gain an awareness of the costs of affiliation with the VHP, and left to found an organization that does similar work, but with a secular slant. [UPDATE/CORRECTION: According to her statement, even at the time, Shah did not subscribe to the message or ideology of the VHP. She characterizes her work as purely focused on humanitarian aid. She also clearly distances herself from the agenda of the VHP, and suggests she has had no involvement in Indian politics, nor intends to have any.]

That second narrative I have presented is admittedly speculation. But I put it out there because I think there is as much evidence to support it as there is to support the narrative that Prashad has put out in Counterpunch.

I do not have the time to write more at present; I may come back to this later tonight. In the meanwhile, comments are open for discussion. Read the Prashad essay — what do you think? Is he being fair? Also, do readers know more about Indicorps? And, finally, if anyone does know Sonal Shah personally, would you vouch for her (or perhaps, for what Prashad is saying about her)?

110 thoughts on “In Defense of Sonal Shah [Updated w/statement from Sonal]

  1. In one case you’re talking about parents, in the other case you’re talking about the person themselves

    Nopes, “Emanuel was a civilian volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, repairing truck brakes in one of Israel’s northern bases” In fact, I see that Counterpunch has lots of articles on Emanuel.

    Israeli connections are even more deeply integrated than VHP ones, and they’ve created more agony for Muslims than VHP ever could.

  2. Long time reader,

    I don’t think your links answered my question. “What’s wrong with Ekal vidayalayas, BTW”?. Those are single teacher schools in remote areas manned by volunteers where kids have no access to education.

    People who have observed Indian politics would know that with the change of government, policies change and HRD ministry under Arjun Singh stopped funding to Ekal vidyalayas because of political reasons. Of late I have been circumspect in believing anything right away without reading the other side of the story.

    If Sonal shah is supporting Ekal Vidyalayas, good for her.

  3. If people want to know more about VHP and RSS:

    US State Department’s International Religious Freedom annual reports 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 (and probably further back), VHP and RSS members documented as attackers on minorities (Christians and Muslims) and violators of religious freedom: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/index.htm

    Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also have reports on the violence carried out by VHP and RSS, you can find them on their websites.

    VHP and RSS’s affiliates implement the Ekal Vidyalayas– you can put some of Ekal Vidyalaya’s partners’ names into Google and “VHP” or “RSS” and find connections through newspaper articles: http://ekalindia.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=4

    My request remains, regardless of whether Sonal Shah and Indicorps continues to work with the VHP or VHP-affiliated groups: A clear statement from the Obama camp and Sonal Shah on Hindutva and the Sangh Parivar would be good, to know where they stand.

  4. VHP and RSS’s affiliates implement the Ekal Vidyalayas– you can put some of Ekal Vidyalaya’s partners’ names into Google and “VHP” or “RSS” and find connections through newspaper articles: http://ekalindia.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=4

    Hmm.. Interesting. I tried the link and it shows up a praising article from Hindu the same newspaper that gave a negative report from your other link. :-)

    http://www.hindu.com/yw/2008/05/27/stories/2008052750230600.htm School for everyone JOHN L. PAUL They aim to send every child to school and are succeeding too! The concept of ‘one-teacher school’ might be hard to believe for children living in cities. Such schools manned by just one teacher are a luxury for children in remote tribal hamlets. The Friends of Tribals Society has given shape to 500 such schools in Kerala’s Wayanad, Idukki, Pathanamtitta and Palakkad districts. The society says that it has helped give shape to 18,000 informal schools across the country.
  5. It amazes me that someone’s long history of good works can be completely sidelined by very weak Palinesque accusations like this. Her (probably innocent) involvement with the VHPA appears to be over, and any connection to the riots is very indirect and tenuous, to the point of being irrelevant, imo. Quite a huge stretch, really. I feel like people are trying to generate a controversy because it’s fun to do so…along the lines of “Oh look, we progressive 2nd genners can also have a cool controversy to argue over”. I don’t believe she needs to clarify anything publicly. PS I detest the VHP. I agree that it would have been better if she had never been involved with them, and she could have accomplished much of the same without them…but people who haven’t done anything for anyone are sitting here critizising her as if she was actually involved in the riots or something.

  6. If a public statement would be enough to shut up her detractors then she should probably make one.

  7. 38 · Melodrama said

    Well, people on the Net say similar things about Asha too. So do you want to reject all relief work Asha has done? And reject everyone has worked/contributed/associated with Asha?

    “People on the net say similar things” and “what is more or less true” are two different categories. So too are “worked/contributed/associated” and “been very involved with.” It would be nice to know especially exactly where Sonal Shah falls on the spectrum for the second question, in the context of how the Hindu right works in India and in the U.S.

    That we don’t despite several years of criticism is because, I think, she hasn’t responded directly and substantively to these issues in a convincing manner. One of the things I like about Obama is his relative sincerity for a politician – shouldn’t his staff people have the same sensibilities?

  8. If a public statement would be enough to shut up her detractors then she should probably make one.

    Maybe she doesn’t care. It is presumptuous to think that she is going/would-like to join the Obama team, which seems to be shaping up in ways that show only cosmetic “change”.

    I personally would be more concerned about her associations with Goldman Sucks.

  9. I guess the underlying assumption here is that anybody who has ever been associated with VHP is come kind of hindu fantatic harboring deep hatred for people of all other religions. Granted any religious organisation has its share of nut jobs and VHP has many, but they do a lot of work which might attract a devout hindu or somebody just interested in doing something charitable for the motherland. That doesnt mean they agree with all their idealogies.

    If this logic was right than a lot of Sikhs going to gurudwaras (specially in canada) can be associated with khalistan movement. Same with people going to mosques or churches. Those assumptions will be as ridiculous as the one made in Sonal’s case.

  10. The analogy made above between VHP and the Baptist Church above bears serious thought. Religious organizations such as these are complex organisms and parts of them can do hateful regressive things while at the same time that large sections of decent people can belong to them for completely unrelated things. This point is lost on some radical leftwing people much as similar niceties regarding the socialist/communist movement would once have been lost on McCarthyites and other redbaiters.

  11. “People on the net say similar things” and “what is more or less true” are two different categories.

    Not in this case. No one really knows whether the money she collected for Earthquake relief went for other causes. Just as no one really knows whether the money Asha collects, or for that matter Christian/Muslim charities collect, goes for other causes.

    With such tenuous associations, you could also speculate that your shopping at the local Pakistani grocer, or buying things made in Pakistan/ Bangladesh, contributes to funding for the next blast in India. In fact, the Hindu right wing says this. And I don’t see any difference between this and the insinuations of Prashad.

  12. Another Indicorps volunteer, here. Like the others, I worked with all three Shah siblings during my year-long Indicorps project in a tsunami affected region of Tamil Nadu. My project specifically involved an adolescent girls empowerment program for girls of all backgrounds and particularly those made vulnerable by the affects of the tsunami of 2004.

    The Shahs, and their organization, have served as inspiration for me not only for my work in India, but as I have endeavored to apply the same Indicorps “spirit of service” now that I am back home in the U.S. All of the Shahs, including Sonal, have been supportive of me in this process, always encouraging and inspiring me – and my other fellow volunteers – to contribute in meaningful ways to our shared community. I hold the highest respect for them and the work they do.

    There are great “stories from the field” on the Indicorps website at: http://www.indicorps.org. These stories are made possible by the work of Sonal, Anand and Roopal, and the many friends of Indicorps who believe that we all can be active participants in creating the positive change we seek.

  13. Found this gem in Prshads’s essay

    A disputed train fire that killed fifty-eight people (most of whom were activists of the Hindu Right) led to a massive pogrom against impoverished Muslim families and modestly well-off Muslim merchants.

    It sounds like he is saying that its not a big deal to burn people who belong to some hindu right wing organization. How is this different from the view of the nuts who commited the henious crime in the aftermath of this incident. And what the hell is a disputed fire!!

  14. 61 · Melodrama said

    Not in this case. No one really knows whether the money she collected for Earthquake relief went for other causes.

    Exactly. Why doesn’t someone tell us? Shah? VHP? VHP-America? Surely someone did some accounting? Yet here we are, several years after these accusations surfaced, and no one has.

    In addition to the money itself though, there is her speaking at HSS, the credibility she helped to provide for VHP. I’m not alleging that she’s publicly and probably not even privately a rightwing ideologue breathing brimstone and fire – I’m asking what the effects of the actions and affiliations she had and given the level of uncertainty for her to explain them – and if she won’t do that, for her to be fired.

    Just look the opinions of other Hindutva people quoted above- who are attempting to place her just as we are – they came to the conclusion that the charity work she did helped provide credibility rather than representing a break from Hindutva.

    Or look at the spinning. Here’s what her brother said in recent days:

    “We are in no way involved with the VHP in India or the Gujarat Government here,” said Anand Shah, who runs Indicorps in Ahmedabad, an NGO Sonal Shah co-founded that provides fellowships to overseas Indian-origin young professionals to do internships in India in social work.

    Here’s what the newspaper said four years ago:

    Nineteen youngsters of Indian origin will be honoured by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi at a special ceremony Sunday for their voluntary work in India. The Gujarat Garima (Pride of Gujarat) awards, organised by Gujarat Times, a weekly Gujarati language news magazine published from New York, will be given to the North American youngsters doing social work in India for the past year under fellowships from the US-based Indiacorps voluntary organisation. The award ceremony will also mark the launch of Indicorps’ “Ahmedabad Volunteer Project”, under which selected youngsters will work to improve civic conditions in the city. Indiacorps was started by 27-year-old Anand Shah and his two sisters Sonal and Rupal to help North American youngsters of Indian origin visit India for social work.

    Of course the newspaper could be wrong (in seriousness – it really could be) – but aren’t these things worth looking into? Don’t we deserve a clearer explanation before someone becomes an appointee in a progressive administration and gets a position that could be a stepping stone to Congress or whatever, particularly given the stakes for South Asian Americans and for diasporic politics? On what grounds does her brother have credibility to assert with confidence the implications of their actions based on this kind of doublespeak?

  15. and if she won’t do that, for her to be fired

    Hmmm…

    Based on the endorsements above and elsewhere, particularly Zoo Station, I think Obama needs her expertise and commitment more than she needs to be on Obama’s team. I am pretty sure she would be quite happy working in Google.

    Unless, of course, you want her to be fired from there as well.

  16. I guess the underlying assumption here is that anybody who has ever been associated with VHP is come kind of hindu fantatic harboring deep hatred for people of all other religions. Granted any religious organisation has its share of nut jobs and VHP has many, but they do a lot of work which might attract a devout hindu or somebody just interested in doing something charitable for the motherland. That doesnt mean they agree with all their idealogies. If this logic was right than a lot of Sikhs going to gurudwaras (specially in canada) can be associated with khalistan movement. Same with people going to mosques or churches. Those assumptions will be as ridiculous as the one made in Sonal’s case.

    No, the correct analogy would be Somebody going to a Mandir that supports the VHP: Somebody going to a Gurdwara that supports Khalistan That’s not what is being discussed.

    Instead, you want something like this Somebody who is raising money for the VHPA America’s charitable activities: Somebody who is raising money for a Khalistani org’s charitable organization.

  17. I was an Indicorps fellow from August 2007 through August 2008. My project was in a small tribal community trying to improve primary education there through teacher training and resource building. The other fellows in my class worked on a range of issues from small business development to health and sanitation to governance and more. Our collective focus was always and unwaveringly on our relationship with India and how we could use our time, skills and passion to do something positive and meaningful for the country of our heritage. Never once did religious fundamentalism, let alone support of such a thing, ever enter the conversation. Indicorps is about inspiring young members of the diaspora to explore their relationship with India through grassroots service work. Fellows come from all religious backgrounds and the partner NGOs that we stay with work in diverse areas from tribal Maharashtra to slum communities in Gujarat to middle-class Bangalore – places that include Indians from every religious and cultural background imaginable.

    President-elect Obama could not have made a better decision than to pick Sonal Shah as a member of his transition team. If the organization that she co-founded is at all representative of her values, which I know it is, then people should realize that she is a person possessing supreme intelligence, tolerance and desire to make the world a better place.

    I am aware that some people may think I am looking at Indicorps through rose-colored glasses because I was a part of it. I cannot say anything to that other than I assure you that everything I say based on my direct experience with the organization and its founders. I do not have anything to gain from making Indicorps seem better than it is; my only interest is in representing the truth. People who still have questions should do their research: check out Indicorps’ Wikipedia page or their website to see what the organization is really all about.

  18. The following is a statement by Sonal Shah, Transition Board Member, for President-elect Barack Obama.

    “As an Indian-American who has lived in this country since the age of four, serving on the Obama-Biden transition team is a unique privilege for me. A presidential transition is always a time of excitement and, in some cases, of rumors and unfounded gossip. I’d like to set to rest a few baseless and silly reports that have been circulating on the Internet. First, my 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. I’ve never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so. Second, I’ve always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool. Some factually inaccurate internet rumors have attempted to link me to Hindu Nationalist groups through a variety of tenuous connections: Relief work I’m proud to have helped coordinate following the Gujarati earthquake of 2001, or cultural and religious affiliations of some of my family members, or apolitical humanitarian work I’ve been privileged to do as a founder of the NGO Indicorps and as the Director of Global Development for Google.org. Finally, I do not subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups, and never have. Ridiculous tactics of guilt by association have been decisively repudiated by the American people. I am delighted with what the victory on November 4 says about my country, and about our place in the world. I look forward to serving our President-elect in this time of transition.”

  19. Okay, that leaves us with my first balanced considered view: he wanted a date, didn’t get one. So he threw whatever acid he could lay hands on. Typical Indian story.

  20. 69 · Melodrama said

    Okay, that leaves us with my first balanced considered view: he wanted a date, didn’t get one. So he threw whatever acid he could lay hands on. Typical Indian story.

    Indian story ?

    Who is the phukkin Indian here ?

  21. 4 · Buster said

    Amardeep, I am not completely sure that your representation of Prashad’s article is fair on two grounds. First, you omit the major reason behind his push for *clarification* of Shah’s relationship (and Indicorps) to the Hindu right: I wrote back, “That sparked some concern for me. Of course we are free to have our multiple associations, and there is no expectation that all our affiliations necessarily influence each other. That necessity is granted, although it is my understanding that the VHPA is a very disciplined organization that demands a lot from its members – notably congruence in all the work that they do. Which is why I raised the question.” Second, you fail to note that the thrust of his article is a larger critique of the sewing together of moderate-left neoliberalism at home (that is, the United States) with allegiances to far-right movements abroad (in Israel or, in this case, India). The critique of Shah’s placement in the Obama team is a piece of a larger critique of US foreign policy and a questioning of where Obama will stand. To compare this sort of thoughtful critique (and I understand that you are more sympathetic to “do-gooder” neoliberalism) to Palin’s imbecilic racially-charged smear campaign is suspect. I am actually quite surprised to read it from you. At the end of the day, Prashad brings up a question. Hopefully his article, and your post, will help us all get to the bottom of the question of Shah’s allegiances. In light of Prashad’s note on the VHP’s well-disciplined machine, it does seem important.

    Buster hit the nail on the head. It’s difficult to prove these sort of ties. It’s not a bad thing to question someone’s potentially really vile associations. Sure, the connection might not exist, but it’s an important question to raise given the gravity of the connection. If Hindu nationalists weren’t so good at organizing themselves the way they do with such subtlety, then I would venture to say that maybe they wouldn’t be a very significant force in the US. It’s precisely because they’re often intermixed into genuinely good philanthropic efforts and genuinely good religious people that makes them tricky to point out.

    Also, anyone who read anything else by Prashad knows that his style is acidic by nature. Good or bad, that’s his style. I find it makes it entertaining to read, at the very least.

  22. Who is the phukkin Indian here ?

    Prashad, who else? By the way he acts, that is.

    See Zoo Station for more on the “Crab Mentality” that makes him Indian. Not to mention throwing acid at women.

  23. Buster hit the nail on the head. It’s difficult to prove these sort of ties. It’s not a bad thing to question someone’s potentially *really vile* associations. Sure, the connection might not exist, but it’s an important question to raise given the gravity of the connection. If Hindu nationalists weren’t so good at organizing themselves the way they do with such subtlety, then I would venture to say that maybe they wouldn’t be a very significant force in the US. It’s precisely because they’re often intermixed into genuinely good philanthropic efforts and genuinely good religious people that makes them tricky to point out

    Chalo. Finally… something that Hindus do good.

  24. The following is a statement by Sonal Shah, Transition Board Member, for President-elect Barack Obama.

    “As an Indian-American who has lived in this country since the age of four, serving on the Obama-Biden transition team is a unique privilege for me. A presidential transition is always a time of excitement and, in some cases, of rumors and unfounded gossip. I’d like to set to rest a few baseless and silly reports that have been circulating on the Internet.


    First, my 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. I’ve never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so.


    Second, I’ve always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool. Some factually inaccurate internet rumors have attempted to link me to Hindu Nationalist groups through a variety of tenuous connections: Relief work I’m proud to have helped coordinate following the Gujarati earthquake of 2001, or cultural and religious affiliations of some of my family members, or apolitical humanitarian work I’ve been privileged to do as a founder of the NGO Indicorps and as the Director of Global Development for Google.org.


    Finally, I do not subscribe to the views of such Hindu nationalist groups, and never have. Ridiculous tactics of guilt by association have been decisively repudiated by the American people. I am delighted with what the victory on November 4 says about my country, and about our place in the world. I look forward to serving our President-elect in this time of transition.”

  25. I am outraged by the assertions against Sonal Shah and their family. Anand Shah, who responded in defense of his sister for example left a life of luxury and now helps villagers in India – many Indians themselves are too lazy or apathetic to do this. Also, he is a Harvard graduate, so its not like he did not have options..

    I emailed Mr. Prashad the followig:

    “I have read excerpts on your comments on Sonal Shah. I think it is highly unfortunate that you choose to go public with your baseless accusations. As far as second generation Indians affiliations with groups such as VHP, I too was raised attending some of their youth camps. I assure you they do not train us in weapons training or to hate Muslims. Being born and/or raised in this country, second generation Indian Americans have few options about learning about their faith or their culture. VHP has had a recognizable base in the US for as far as I can remember and I am 30 now. They were one of the few organizations that taught children belonging to Hindu families of their religion and culture. While we may not agree 100% ideologically with them, it does not mean we are fanatic by our associaton with them. I do not think it is fair that assertions are being made and associations between Sonal Shah and the riots in Gujurat. Do you have any direct evidence of this? Should we call all Muslims terrorists because some Muslims are?

    I think your assertions are idiotic.

  26. Do any of you have any idea of what Ramesh Shah does in the VHP? He runs American Hindus against Defamation what he does is writing letters to businesses protesting selling of Ganeshas on toilets and so on

  27. Rahm Emanuel is the son of a zionist militant and Sonal Shah is associated with VHP. At least now, we should know that Obama isn’t a muslim :)

  28. Having personally known Sonal for the last 6 years, and her family for the last 10+ years – I was not at all surprised to learn that she had been appointed the esteemed honor to be a member of President-elect Obama’s transition team. She has always sought to not only serve the community, whether on a large scale through her service under the Clinton administration or on a grassroots level in India through Indicorps, but also empower others to do the same. She shares Obama’s value of grassroots community involvement, and she has always encouraged me to engage and work with the local community with Indians and non-Indians alike. This most recently culminated in my involvement in the Obama election – where, like many others, I phonebanked and canvassed for the campaign. She inspired a level of civic involvement that I had never had before, by helping to convert my passion into action. In this way, she is truly a changemaker – as she sheds light on people’s talents and cultivates community action, by being a leader and guide. Her rational compassion allows her to serve with her intellect and heart, whether in some far off village in Africa or India, or helping a friend during a difficult period in her life.

    If you knew Sonal, you would know that she cares deeply about bringing South Asians together through service – from all regions and religions. You would know that she is steadfast and committed to serving higher ideals beyond her own needs. You would know that although she’s held such lofty positions at Google.org and Goldman Sachs, that she is incredibly down to earth and transparent. And you would know that she truly loves America – and is dedicated to the type of change that not only Barack Obama envisions, but that we all yearn for.

  29. Her statement is evasive and doesn’t mention her role as president of the VHP-A. Spin it as much as you want, that’s not simply humanitarian work. I find her remarks to confirm Vijay Prashad’s remarks about her unwillingness to answer questions about a very specific position as president of VHP-A.

  30. Looks like Dr. Amnonsensical and his bro Prashad are just being thorough Marxists. “To each according his needs” and stuff. I guess we can take this to mean that there are different measures for secular bonafides across different faiths. Because if we were to normalize it all Pakistanis & Bangladeshis who are untroubled by the explicit definition of their state as Muslim (safely 90% of them) would be spending time in the same doghouse as the Modi supporters. BTW, around the same time that the Gujurat anti-Muslim pogroms happened, 1,000 Hindus were killed in Bangladesh by Muslim parties during the elections. This is hardly ever mentioned and Siddharth wonders why these discussions follow a similar trajectory of tit for tat grievance balancing. A Hindu voicing a concern is always inappropriate, just like farting in a crowded elevator. Pray tell, how are crimes against Hindus presented to the Priyamvada Gopals & Prashads of the world without being blacklisted? Does the act of bringing up these concerns automatically make you part of the Sangh Parivar? There must be some rules of the progressive community that evade me. As best as I can understand it per Arundhati Roy the Taliban is just a back to nature movement that rejects carbonated beverages using particularly vigorous pyrotechnic displays.

  31. Amardeep,

    I have watched this thread sporadically and despondently throughout the day. The bickering and mud-flinging all around has been rather disappointing. And ultimately, I hate to say, I think the blame rests with the original post.

    Typically, I think of you as a responsible reviewer. And the first rule of good reviewing, as far as I’m concerned, is that the reviewer accurately and diligently represents the work under consideration as a whole–mapping out all arguments and their constituent parts, the mechanics and logic of the piece, the intended audience, the author’s convictions and background. But your review here, which worked well to stir up conversation and drive up hits, I imagine, completely fails by this measure.

    As I noted in my earlier response, you, without any substantiating quotations, make the claim that Prashad’s article “smells” like a smear. What’s curious to me is that you completely avoid the fact that most of the vitriol of the piece is not based merely on Shah’s ostensible ties to Hindutva (and I’m not sure that her statement is exactly clear on her previous ties, but I’ll take it at face value) but on a rejection of neoliberal economic policies, US foreign policy and its implications in the “global South.” You can agree or disagree with him on these matters. But instead you painted a reductive picture of the work of a hack that is easy to dismiss and decry (here the stat counter sings with joy, I’m sure), and easy for a simplistic comparison to Palin’s hateful rhetoric.

    I’d grown accustomed to this kind of reviewing in other internet venues (which nowadays includes the New York Times, I suppose). Honestly, I expected better from you, based on your previous writings.

    I hope you take this note in the friendly, albeit critical, spirit I offer it in. And I’d be curious to hear your reflections.

    Best, Buster

  32. Now that there is a statement I hope people take it at its merit. I am not sure if there is a point to beat this to death

  33. 72 · melodrama said

    >Who is the phukkin Indian here ? >>>Prashad, who else? By the way he acts, that is. >>>See Zoo Station for more on the “Crab Mentality” that makes him Indian. Not to mention throwing acid at women.

    Well… to me it seems he acts more like any self-indulgent, pseudo-intellectual, South-Asian American who is enjoying vicarious thrills of Marxism while living all the comforts of Capitalism.

    He however puts up a pretty decent defense for Rashid Khalidi.

  34. Quick note: Ms. Shah was not a VHPA president, but a National Coordinator of the Gujarat earthquake relief efforts for the VHP of America in 2001.

    It seems we have several Indicorps fellows and/or supporters here: does anyone know if Indify has worked in communal harmony campaigns and projects, or with groups supporting the relief and rehabilitation of the Sangh-targeted minorities, at any point from Gujarat 2002 to Orissa 2008?

    I’m grateful to those that posted Ms. Shah’s statement. The statement clearly distances her from the Sangh.

    Given that she has already put labor into supporting Sangh efforts (VHP-A and Ekal Vidyalaya) as recently as 2004, I am wondering if she has devoted labor to communal harmony in India since?

    Does anyone know if Indicorps or any of her work in the past has invested in communal harmony, through sponsoring inter-community and inter-caste events and dialogues, secular education, livelihood support and legal aid to survivors, or anything else that survivors and targeted communities and their allies (including Hindus and non-Hindus) deemed appropriate? Can anyone point us to links or newspaper stories? I’m wondering about any efforts in this regard, working with survivors or not.

  35. According to his own logic than Prashad should shut the hell up because he is associated with communist parties in India whose members are acting like goons and are beating up and even killing people who do not agree with their party program/ideology or are opposed to their leftwing policies. Remember which party was responsible for the Nandigram killings?? Well Prashad is associated with that left wing party, so that means that (according to his own logic) he supports murderous marxists killing innocent people who protest peacefully for their rights.

    According to some people here the VHP/RSS/BJP etc etc are evil parties/organisations. So that means that every one that is a member or sympathiser or is just associated with them must be evil to. Give me a break, those organisations have tens of milions of members and sympathisers does that mean that they are all evil??? No off course not, there are millions of their members who work hard, abide the law and do lot’s of social work/sewa. I applaud them for that. Some people like to focus on some of the crimes (alleged or not) that VHP members (or ex members) have been involved in yet they are completly blind(intentionally) for all the good work that has been done by the same organisations they are so vehemently demonising.Maybe those people want foreign missionaries coming to India doing the work and harvesting the souls as rewards??? If from a mosque/madrassa someone becomes a terrorist does that mean that every member/supporter of that mosque/madrassa is a terrorist??? I am certain that everyone (especially those people) will (vehemently) deny that.

    So what if sonal shah is a member of VHP, so what if she did some charity work with them, so what if her family is involved with the RSS/VHP. Does that somehow diminish her personal acheivements and kwalifications.Does that somehow stain her good personal integrity?? I don’tthink so.I strongly feel that these allegations are part of a smear-campaign against her and that certain types of people are abusing her to exhibit their blatant campaign of demonising certain Hindu organisations and their members/sympathisers.

    I have read what sonal shah accomplished in her live so far and i just know that those people that are involved in this smear- and demonising campaign will never ever acheive what she has. Those people are just jealous of her and are nothing more than pathetic losers campaigning against ‘hindutva infiltration’ (while they have absolutly no clue what they are talking about). I am PROUD of the acheivements of this strong hindu woman with her roots in Bharat, and i think that every right minded person with Indian roots should also be proud of her.

  36. What’s curious to me is that you completely avoid the fact that most of the vitriol of the piece is not based merely on Shah’s ostensible ties to Hindutva (and I’m not sure that her statement is exactly clear on her previous ties, but I’ll take it at face value) but on a rejection of neoliberal economic policies, US foreign policy and its implications in the “global South.”

    I’m not sure we read the same piece. The one I read was called “Obama’s Indian,” and it was about a woman named Sonal Shah, who has scary connections to shadowy Hindu right groups, which, according to Prashad, demand absolute discipline (so even if she looks like she means well, according Prashad’s thinking she might still be a Hindutvadi plant).

    The smear piece I read tries to make something out of her work for Anderson Consulting (which he erroneously claimed, was the corporate accountant for Enron), mis-represents her job at Google.org as a job at Google.com, and says nothing about her work in Kosovo. Sadly for me, the Prashad piece I read has some irrelevant nonsense about the Center for American Progress’ advocacy for Darfur, which according to Prashad’s bizarre logic is a joke because they don’t also have a position on Israel/Palestine. Perhaps you read a piece by Vijay Prashad that made more sense?

    The piece I read has six paragraphs about the Gujarat pogroms, which have nothing to do with Sonal Shah, and where the Shah family’s name is not mentioned. Why are they there, if not to participate in the logic of a smear?

    It is remarkable to me that for someone who has been in the public eye for more than a decade, this supposed crypto-communalist named Sonal Shah has never been quoted as saying anything intolerant. Prashad himself does not have any quotes from her or her brother to this effect. Rather comically, when he recounts his email interchange with Sonal Shah’s brother, he quotes himself. (“Look at my clever retort!”) Moreover, from the thousands of readers of this site, as well as on several other major Desi weblogs, no one, anywhere, has had anything negative to say about Sonal Shah from personal experience. There are no disgruntled Indicorps volunteers complaining about indoctrination.

    Not trivially, several of the desi friends who have emailed me in support of Shah, who know her personally and who have asked her point blanc about this issue, come from Muslim backgrounds.

    In short, I am not sure what piece by Vijay Prashad you are referring to. The one I read over the weekend, and which was linked to in this blog post, caused me to lose whatever respect I had for the man.

  37. Are you happy, Dr Amonymous? You got your statement from Sonal. Are you done raking her over the coals now? I for one have been bemused for a while now with the extreme political and economic ideas you express, but have never said anything since after all you have the right to express yourself; even in this thread you have every right to express your views; but I think your ‘progressive’ stance here bordered on ridiculous if not cruel, to someone who has probably done a lot more to help people than you ever have or ever will. And I think even you know there are no real, significant, or direct ties to whatever Sonal did and the funding or otherwise supporting of the Gujarat Riots or other VHP activities. I am disgusted with your relentlessness on this issue and your unwillingness to let it go, as well continuing to create controversy where little exists. And I’m glad she’s on the transition team. Which I never would have even cared about if it wasn’t for some of the contrary opinions expressed here.

  38. Though people do claim that when you are a public figure then there is nothing private about you, I think her good work with Indicorps and Google outweighs any negative associations (yet unproven) with the “non-secular” activities of Hindu fundamentalist “factions” and “elements” within Hindu organizations.

  39. As you can see, there are plenty of people who are willing to attest to Sonal’s character, her life’s work and how she has directly and through Indicorps, touched our lives. As an Indicorps fellow, I worked in rural Rajasthan addressing issues causing malnutrition – 47% of India’s under 5 yo are malnourished – now this is something we should be getting up in arms about and work to address! As an Indian Christian living amongst Hindus and Muslims in a small village in Rajasthan, I quickly came to experience firsthand the common humanity which binds us all. This was a truly transformative experience which was in no way influenced by any ideology other than one of committed, conscientious service. The fellowship prompts us to think critically about how we might be able to be agents of positive change, not just during our year, but throughout our lives. In my current work on domestic health projects and as an advocate on various international health issues, I live the lessons learned daily. This is what Sonal Shah’s leadership has resulted in – committed, conscientious individuals who actively seek ways to create a more just world.

  40. 89 · Amitabh said

    Are you happy, Dr Amonymous? You got your statement from Sonal. Are you done raking her over the coals now? I for one have been bemused for a while now with the extreme political and economic ideas you express, but have never said anything since after all you have the right to express yourself; even in this thread you have every right to express your views; but I think your ‘progressive’ stance here bordered on ridiculous if not cruel, to someone who has probably done a lot more to help people than you ever have or ever will. And I think even you know there are no real, significant, or direct ties to whatever Sonal did and the funding or otherwise supporting of the Gujarat Riots or other VHP activities. I am disgusted with your relentlessness on this issue and your unwillingness to let it go, as well continuing to create controversy where little exists. And I’m glad she’s on the transition team. Which I never would have even cared about if it wasn’t for some of the contrary opinions expressed here.

    Dr. Amnonsense will never surrender and concedes nothing! Vote McKinney-Prashad 2016!

  41. These claims are analogous to accusations that Obama is a member of the Weather Underground. They have little base. She coordinated major efforts for a critical disaster-relief fundraising initiative (pre-2002) with one of the most effective organizations in this role. The BJP is the perennial party in power in Gujarat, and little gets done in that state without their nod. Her parents’ beliefs can (and appear to) have little to do with her. Nearly all Indian immigrants are politically conservative, while their children are simultaneously among the most progressive demographic in America. The Prashad article was very badly written, rambling on and on and occasionally using creatively-crafted language to establish loose links (not actually proving anything). The articles from the Indian media (which is notably terrible anyway) are no better. I have little interest in defending Sonal, but Prashad’s hate-mongering is upsetting.

    I don’t know Sonal, but I how her brother Anand from working with him, and I’m very familiar with Indicorps. I’m even familiar with the RSS/VHP/BJP from firsthand experience, from when I lived in India last year. Their values and beliefs are incongruous. Anyway, let Sonal’s work speak for itself: she has openly spearheaded more practical progressive work than most people in the US, India, or elsewhere. And even if Prashad is right that she’s truly an active member of the Hindu right-wing… I trust that Obama is intelligent enough to see through that.

    Her response to the situation speaks clearly for itself (see a couple responses above). No more than that can be said right now, given her role, nor does it really have to be.

  42. Amardeep,

    It’s true–I think we did read different pieces. The last five paragraphs of the piece I read were not about Shah but about US foreign policy. The middle section had as much to do with the impact of globalization (or in an older lexicon, imperialism) on the specificities of Gujarati political-economy. The beginning of the essay was a critique of the Democratic policy-making infrastructure and the choices faced by the transition team. Which brings up the point of who is staffing the transition team.

    My point was never that Prashad was not vitriolic in his attack, nor was my point that his piece and evidentiary claims were above criticism. Rather I was bothered that you misrepresented what he was angry about–which are the points he opens and closes with–and consequently, the discussion in the forum never actually touched on his main points. Mine was less a defense of Prashad (or Shah, for that matter) but of proper criticism and of intellectual discourse.

    As an aside, if you disagree with Prashad’s take on Darfur, that’s fine. But his “irrelevant nonsense” on the matter is rather close to the positions of marginal intellectuals like Mahmood Mamdani (whom he cites) and SSRC President Craig Calhoun (who voiced a similar interpretation at a talk a couple of years ago).

    I’m not sure we need take this much further. If all goes well, this thread should quiet down now with Shah’s statement.

    Best, again, Buster

  43. In response to number 86, I found this project on the Indicorps projects page.

    Music and Creative Learning (Ahmedabad, Gujarat)

    Paired with Manav Sadhna, an NGO based at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, an Indicorps fellow is using music to promote non-traditional learning and communal harmony. Shivana is helping to generate awareness of the benefits of music education, while helping coordinate arts education programs for underserved youth.

    Partner NGO: Manav Sadhna (Gandhi Ashram)

  44. Very interesting thread–the kind of reason I read SM–I’ve read all 89 comments–(1) I’m not involved in the VHP, nor are my parents (2) I’m nominally Hindu, and my parents are more obviously Hindu, (3) the concerns over Sonal Shah’s alleged affiliation with a charity that raises money for disaster victims but is affiliated with the VHP is really reminiscent of the charges against Muslims who give $$t to charities that are involved in “less than liberal” activities, and (4) I continue to be mystified (well, not really,–it’s obviously pure politics) as to why Hindus who object to foreign influence are encouraged to berate the Britishers but are estopped from objecting to Persian or Turkic incursions into South Asia, which are allegedly to be accepted (what exactly, is the exogenous “truth” that they satisfy??).

  45. @30

    The question is not which one is more evil, the debate is one of the member’s of Obama’s team had questionable associations.

    Guilt by Association game lost in this election. You had Obama constantly attacked by the right for his associations.

  46. Cut the chase. 1)Shah had link with VHP. She admitted that. Dozens of proof can be showed to public. 2)Everybody in India and or those who know Indian politics knows for sure where VHP/RSS stands. They are responsible for the ongoing massacres of hundreds of thousands of Christians in India. 3)VHP/RSS are government sponsored Terrorist group killing minorities with the help of funding they receive from rich families like Shah ! We may not want to believe that but Fact is the FACT !!

  47. @99

    And your alternative in Indian politics is? Congress that killed Sikhs. Communist – Nandigram?