First Indian-American in Barack Obama’s team sought their help on fundamentalism charges

Sonal Shah was being accused of siding with Hindu fundamentalist and was alleged of being supportive of their cause.

By: PTI | Washington | Published:October 11, 2016 1:52 pm

Sonal Shah, the first Indian-American appointed to the presidential transition team of Barack Obama had written that the “frenzy” ethnic Indian press accused her of Hindu fundamentalism in 2008 to discredit him and having her quit, according to data released by WikiLeaks.

Shah, a top economist who was appointed to then president-elect Obama’s transition team in 2008, wrote to the team’s top leadership that the accusations of her being a right-wing Hindu fundamentalist and that she supported the communal violence in Gujarat, was mainly aimed at discrediting Obama, the emails released by WikiLeaks yesterday said.

“I am writing to get some guidance from you in managing the India press frenzy about my alleged right-wing politics and terrorist tendencies,” Shah wrote on November 10, nearly a week after Obama became the first non-White male to win the US presidential elections.

She was being accused of siding with Hindu fundamentalist and was alleged of being supportive of their cause.

As her opponents launched a media campaign against her, Shah sought guidance from her party leadership fearing that this might tarnish the image of Obama.

“There are hundred of blog posts and articles on this and without any responses, the rumors are feeding on each other. More interestingly, they were planning a public campaign to embarrass the president-elect and have me resign. I had several calls from prominent folks in India saying the best way to counter the lies and rumors was to put something out there denying the allegations. Others suggested doing a controlled interview,” she wrote.

Denis McDonough, who is currently the Chief of Staff, asked her to draft a defence for them to look into.

“A presidential transition is always a time of wild rumors and unfounded gossip, so I’d like to set to rest a few baseless reports that have been circulating on the Internet,” she wrote in another email the same night.

“First, I’ve never been affiliated – in any way, shape or form – with any Indian political party or similar group. To clear up one false rumor: I’ve never been affiliated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), or any such organisation. I’ve never been involved in Indian politics, and never intend to do so,” Shah wrote.

“Second, my personal politics have nothing in common with the views espoused by such groups. I’ve always condemned any politics of division, of ethnic or religious hatred, of violence and intimidation as a political tool,” she said.

“Third, some 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 Gujarat earthquake of 2001, or cultural and religious affiliations of some of my family members, or apolitical humanitarian work… I have no ties to any such groups, and never have,” Shah said.

Shah was later appointed in the Obama administration. From April 2009 to August 2011, she served as the Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House.