BHAMY V. SHENOY writes from Houston, Texas: When Houston’s Non-Resident Indians learnt of the selection of Sonal Shah (in picture, left) to the 15-member transition team set up by US President-elect Barack Obama, we were happy and proud of her achievement.
But we were quickly shell-shocked when we heard of the virulent attack on her choice by self-styled ‘progressive” groups such as Coalition against Genocide, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism, Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India.
These “progressive” groups seem to be intoxicated with their victory in preventing the grant of a US visa to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
Though many of us did not fully agree with such an extreme step, we could appreciate the spirit behind it and even had some appreciation. After all, most of us were shocked and even shamed by Godhra massacre. However, with their latest attempt to discredit a reputed and highly accomplished Sonal Shah, they would have lost what little credibility they might have had with a majority of secularists, including yours truly.
How could they stoop down to connect Sonal with Godhra, or the recent killings of Christians, with Ekal Vidyalaya?
Sonal Shah, who graduated from Houston and whose parents live in Houston, is known to all those NRIs who are involved in contributing to India’s development, along with her brother Anand and sister Roopal. These three have devoted their considerable talents and time to work on various activities to contribute to India’s development.
Just two are illustrative of their dedication.
Exhibit A: Indicorps started by Sonal and Anand recruits young volunteers from the US to work with NGOs in India. Indicorps has accomplished a lot and has been recognized by many organizations. Sonal was honored by India Abroad as “Person of the year” for her contribution in 2003.
Will these “progressive” organizations boycott India Abroad as fundamentalist since their strategy seems to depend upon finding one harmful through guilt-by-association?
Exhibit B: Ekal Vidyalaya, an NGO dedicated to spreading literacy in tribal and remote villages through single teacher schools, is a great success. The Shahs have played a key role in its development.
It is true that it may not be as secular as other equally well known educational NGOs like Pratham or Asha. But the very fact of the association of Abid Hussein, former Indian Ambassador to the US, with Ekal shows that it is not a fundamentalist organization as is being portrayed by these “progressive” groups.
While Sonal’s professional contributions have been outstanding through her work at Anderson Consulting, Goldman Sachs, and the treasury department during the Bill Clinton presidency by working in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Indonesia and currently as Vice President at Google, her NGO work through the George Soros Foundation and the Omidyar Network during the 2004 Tsunami tragedy should be a model for the youth.
Her brother Anand after graduating from Harvard did not attempt to cash his credentials to earn a six figure salary like most of us. He went to India looking for opportunities to serve the poor.
Being a long term resident of Houston, I know Sonal’s family for the last 30 years. Her father is a good friend of mine and I have worked on various projects and organizations with him. I was always surprised by his affiliation with Vishwa Hindu Parishat and had argued about it. I was happy to learn that he was against Modi’s Godhra massacre and he wished that it had not happened.
I never found Ramesh to be a fundamentalist in his views. I have also had discussions with his children about their parent’s affiliation with VHP and was happy to learn that their involvement was marginal at best and they never looked at the problem from a narrow “Hindutva” point of view.
It has become a fad for “progressive” groups to show how they are the only groups who are broadminded and that others who have different opinions are narrow minded bigots.
It is ironical that they quote Mahatma Gandhi’s from his book My Experiment with Truth—“It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow-beings”—while they indulge in such humiliation, as in Sonal’s case.
The three “progressive” groups protesting Sonal’s appointment are not really concerned about the unintended consequences of their stand resulting in further divisiveness and hatred in NRI community.
The Mahatma, even while disagreeing with his opponents, was always humble enough to understand and appreciate them. On the other hand, these progressives have been trying to pour venom by raising unconnected incidents as background to create demonic personality of Sonal.
Obama’s Republican opponents also tried to create such an ugly view of him by giving guilt-by-association examples of his long time priest, Jeremiah Wright.
Perhaps this may be the beginning of the rapid end for this progressive movement when the NRI community consisting of a secular thinking majority sees their real design of sowing hatred and divisiveness like the fundamentalist jihadis.
Photograph: courtesy Rediff.com