This should surprise none of us. Absolutely none of us.
Obama appoints Sonal Shah, a Google employee, to work on his transition team. Reporters uncover evidence that Sonal Shah is tied to VHP of America, the American arm of Vishva Hindu Parishad, a questionable militant group in India.
Naturally and predictably, Shah denied the allegations.
A series of e-mails obtained by Nextgov suggest that Shah was an active member of the Vishva Hindu Parishad of America during the late 1990s and contributed to strategic discussions regarding the group’s public image. Two VHP of America officials also confirmed that Shah served on the organization’s governing council in the 1990s.
VHP is an international Hindu organization that is part of Sangh Parivar, the Indian nationalist movement organized around Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism. VHP has been condemned by the nonprofit group Human Rights Watch and the State Department for its role in the 2002 violence in the northwestern state of Gujarat that killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.
Okay, so Sonal Shah is working on tech policy. The problem is, and Obama should realize this, India and Pakistan don’t care what she is working on. The fact that he has put someone with close ties to VHP on his staff has serious and real potential to disrupt relations with India, who we should be getting closer to, and Pakistan.
Despite Shah’s statement renouncing the VHP, the issue has remained a hot topic in the Indian press. On Dec. 5, a group of more than 60 U.S. academics, many working in South Asian-related fields, sent a letter to Obama expressing their concern over Shah’s appointment and the increasing influence of Hindu nationalism in America.
Prashad also pointed to a 2004 speech by Shah at a Sangh-related event, where according to the organization’s Web site, Shah “exposed the hypocrisy of the Western way of life, highlighting its wasteful ways and compared them to the simpler but more genuine life in India. She mentioned how Indians would sacrifice whatever they had for their guests, but we in the West cannot even sacrifice a little time for them.”
She may be a perfect fit for Obama given all the distasteful people he has surrounded himself with over the years, but she could seriously undermine foreign relations by being so close to Obama.