Indian Americans urge The Texas Tribune to revoke Sonal Shah’s appointment as next CEO
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C. (November 1, 2022) – Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), the nation’s largest advocacy organization for Indian American Muslims, strongly condemns and urges The Texas Tribune to rescind the appointment of Sonal Shah as the organization’s chief executive officer.
Last week, Jim Schachter, the chair of The Texas Tribune’s board of directors, announced that Shah will succeed its founding CEO Evan Smith, starting January 2023.
Shah’s appointment as chief executive at The Tribune, a nonpartisan and one of the biggest nonprofit news organizations in the US, comes as a big shock and surprise to many Indian Americans, whose work center around documenting the violent Hindu extremist groups and defending the human rights and religious freedoms of religious minorities in India.
Shah has had close ties with Hindu supremacist groups, especially India-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), categorized by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a “religious militant organization”. She was an active member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), the US counterpart of VHP. In India, VHP has been one of the principal non-state actors responsible for whipping up anti-Muslim and anti-christian hate, bigotry, and violence. The US Department of State, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have implicated VHP in numerous incidents of deadly anti-minority violence in India.
Just last year, VHPA invited Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati for a virtual event. Saraswati is a Hindu militant priest spearheading a pan-India campaign to commit genocide of the country’s 200 million Muslims. During her stint with VHPA, internal emails suggest that Shah often advised the group about its image management.
Shah’s ties to the US-based Hindu extremist groups linked to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Nazi-inspired, fascist paramilitary group in India and the progenitor of Hindu nationalist ideology, goes back longer and deeper. She has supported Ekal Vidyalaya, another VHP-led project in India, which has been accused of spreading the RSS agenda of Hindu supremacy and of promoting anti-minority hate among young children.
Shah has also volunteered for Sewa International USA (a charity group currently chaired by Ramesh Bhutada, the Vice President of Hindu Swayamsewak Sangh, the international wing of RSS in the US.) Sewa International is the foreign service wing of RSS’s Sewa Bharati India.
“We are disappointed by The Tribune’s decision to appoint Shah as the next CEO despite her well-documented links with Hindu supremacist groups. If her appointment is not rescinded, it will demonstrate a total disregard by The Tribune for the sentiments of the American Muslim community, especially Indian American Muslims and Indian minorities who are facing an onslaught of hate and violence from violent Hindu extremist groups like VHP and RSS in India,” said IAMC executive Director Rasheed Ahmed.
“Trust in public service journalism that is independent, impartial, and accurate can’t be built by those who follow extremist ideologies. Her leadership could potentially be used to influence journalists at The Tribune to protect and defend Hindu nationalist organizations and interests in the US. The Texas Tribune’s board of directors must reconsider its decision and revisit its vetting process for candidates to be appointed for such important positions in the organization,” Ahmed added.
Shah’s family, especially her father, Ramesh Shah, has deep ties to various RSS international affiliates — including Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP). He served as OFBJP’s president, which was registered as a Foreign Agent of India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by the US Department of Justice in 2020.
In 2008, Sonal Shah’s appointment to the then-US President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team advisory board prompted international condemnation for her Hindu extremist links.
Her recent appointment as Chief Commissioner of President Joe Biden’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and later to the Advisory Council of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was also marred in controversy for her Hindu extremist links, prompting more than 20,000 people to sign a petition calling for her removal.