November 07, 2008

VHP America's Sonal Shah, on Obama's transition team

Hindustan Times

Obama team member has Sangh links

HT Political Bureau, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, November 08, 2008

US President-elect Barack Obama may have cultivated a left-of-center image for himself, but Sonal Shah, the Indian-American advisor in his transition team, has well established rightwing leanings.

The 40-year-old economist has been associated with the overseas activities of the Sangh Parivar. She was a national coordinator of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America campaign to raise funds for Gujarat earthquake victims in 2001.

Her father Ramesh Shah, a vice-president of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP), had campaigned for LK Advani in Gandhinagar during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. He had also briefly traveled with Advani during his Bharat Udaya Yatra, countrywide election tour.

Sonal’s brother Amit and sister Rupal are now based in Ahmedabad, running a voluntary organisation, indicorps. Its website says its aim is to “engage the most talented young Indians from around the world on the frontlines of India’s most pressing challenges”.

“I returned to India eight years ago,” Amit told HT before suddenly deciding not to talk any further. An SMS from Rupal said “no comments from here”, and added that Sonal be contacted through email for any queries.

A senior functionary of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), involved in the global activities of the Parivar, said only Ramesh is associated with its activities. “He works with the OFBJP and supports, among other things, the Ekal Vidyalayas,” the functionary said. Ekal Vidyalayas are single-teacher primary schools run by the RSS with the aim of inculcating Hindu values in children, mostly in tribal regions.

The Shah family hails from Sabarkantha in Gujarat but Sonal was born in Mumbai. Ramesh Shah moved to the US in 1970. Two years later, Sonal, Rupal and their mother joined him in New York. The family later moved to Houston. Sonal has worked as vice-president with Goldman Sachs and also in the US Department of Treasury. Currently, she is with the global development team of Google.org.

Volunteers at the indicorps office in Ahmedabad were under instructions not to speak anything.

(Inputs from Ahmedabad)