Remove Sonal Shah From DHS For Hindutva Links

Remove Sonal Shah From DHS For Hindutva Links

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In February 2022, Sonal, 53, was sworn in as Chief Commissioner of Biden’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. On 17 March, she moved deeper into the administration when she was appointed to the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council, a body tasked with “decision-making across the spectrum of homeland security operations.” Her appointment may surprise some considering she spent years as a leader in the US wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an Indian outfit categorized in 2018 by the Central Intelligence Agency as a “religious militant organization.”

What is perhaps more surprising, however, is that Sonal’s two recent appointments came and went almost unnoticed amongst the Indian-American diaspora. It’s a sharp contrast to her first presidential appointment, in 2008, which prompted a month-long international media firestorm focused on her past Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) role as well as her family’s deep ties to the RSS-BJP’s international affiliates — including Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), which registered as a Foreign Agent in 2020.

Sonal’s father, Ramesh Shah, might be described as a founding father of America’s RSS-BJP affiliates. His long-time role as an OFBJP executive was particularly helpful to Narendra Modi’s political ambitions, which Modi’s adminstration apparently recognized in January 2017 when Ramesh — a resident of Houston, Texas — was invited to Bangalore, Karnataka to receive the highest award India offers to Non-Resident Indians: the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award.

Other pre-2008 actions linked Sonal directly to the American Sangh.

In 2005, she donated $10,000 to Ekal Vidyalaya. Founded by her father and claimed by VHPA as their original project, Ekal, according to Indian media reports, creates “RSS-run” schools which have “helped the spread of Hindutva[Hindu nationalism].” That same year, she also volunteered, alongside her father, with Sewa International, a charity which is currently chaired by HSS’s Bhutada and is (as admitted by the Sangh itself) one of “several affiliated organizations of the RSS.” In 2002, in fact, Sewa was subject to controversy in both the US and the UK over allegations that monies it raised were being funneled to RSS outfits in India which were involved in sectarian violence.

After weathering the 2008 controversy, Sonal still continued her involvement with both groups. In 2015, she was the keynote speaker at a Sewa fundraiser where she personally pledged $5,000. In 2018, she spoke at an Ekal fundraiser — presumably at the invitation of her father, who not only attended the event but was then the outfit’s chair.

Aside from the details of her curriculum vitae (working at the US Treasury Department, Goldman Sachs, Google, and a variety of think tanks as well as serving on Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign), Sonal Shah is best known to the general public for the deluge of bad press she endured in 2008.

Today, however, she doesn’t seem to take the incident very seriously. In 2021, after Biden won the presidency and The Tribune reported — prematurely — that Sangh-linked figures were excluded from the administration, she gave an interview in which she dismissed the whole affair as “dumb” and claimed the Obama transition team leadership had “laughed” at the allegations.

Meanwhile, the Shah family has not backed off its advocacy for the BJP: both of Sonal’s parents apparently joined OFBJP to campaign in Gujarat in 2019.

Whatever the future holds for Sonal, it seems that she believes the events of 2008 are buried in the past — just as it also seems that her half-hearted “disassociation” from VHPA was nothing more than a passing, opportunistic reaction necessitated by rising political pressure. She “would not have associated with the VHP of America” had she foreseen VHP’s involvement in the 2002 violence, she claimed when all eyes were focused on her, but (once the attention shifted) she showed no hesitation to associate with a VHPA project like Ekal. In 2008, she denounced the Gujarat riots as “heinous events” and expressed her shock that VHPA “could possibly stand by silently,” but in 2021 she waved off concerns about her involvement with VHPA as “dumb.”

Moreover, from at least 1998 to 2001, Sonal Shah had no issue associating with VHPA at a time when VHP was primarily known internationally for its involvement in the 1992 Babri mosque destruction, an act which sparked brutal riots that took the lives of thousands. She never voiced her shock that VHPA chose to stand by silently in the face of those heinous events. Why not?

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