Opinion: The U.S. appoints leader with ties to extremist group to the Department of Homeland Security


When Donald Trump was in charge, it was rather easy for human rights defenders and promoters of free speech to unite in protest against a leader who openly espoused majoritarian narratives and marginalized communities. But what do you do when the person who defeated him has followed in his footsteps, in silence? Should our protests not be as vociferous, our scrutiny as sincere, and our voices as strong?

Washington, D.C.- We are, of course, talking about President Joe Biden here. The guy who defeated Donald Trump but has since resorted to taking steps that would make even Trump proud.

Unlike Biden, Former President Donald Trump never attempted to hide his love for right-wing, Hindu supremacist organizations, including India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Let's not forget that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trump happily campaigned for each other.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Former President Donald Trump at Howdi Modi eventPhoto credit: The Intercept

But wasn’t Biden supposed to be different?

Unfortunately, his actions and inactions show that he has jumped on the bandwagon with the rest of the extremist group supporters.

How else do you explain the appointment of Sonal Shah, a former leader of the US wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an Indian outfit categorized in 2018 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a religious militant organization?

Shah is not just a regular member of the Biden administration. Sonal Shah made two career-defining jumps this year in less than a month: in February 2022, Sonal, 53, was sworn in as Chief Commissioner of Biden’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

Within a month, she was appointed to the Department of Homeland Security as Advisory Council; a body tasked with decision-making across the spectrum of homeland security operations. What might come as a surprise is that this move came a year after Shah was denied a chance to be included in President Joe Biden's administration while she was an active part of the Biden Campaign Team. So what changed in a year?The answer lies in understanding how stealthily India’s right-wing groups have made their way to the top echelons of the US government.

Although the Hindu right-wing has existed since the 70s in the US, it didn’t begin to gain power until the late 90s and early 2000s. Sonal Shah was part of this generation, and this is understandable, given her father, Ramesh Shah is the vice-president of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party (OFBJP).

The OFBJP is a pioneer of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its sister organizations, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a para-military organization, and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Ramesh Shah campaigned for the architect of the Babri Masjid demolition in India in 1992. After the Babri Masjid demolitions, Ramesh Shah became a focal point for providing Hindu right-wing groups with financial and other logistical support.

Of course, looking from the outside, these organizations outwardly appeal to a person’s kindness and pithy through overtly non-profit organizations like Ekal Vidyalayas (schools for marginalized communities), outreach programs for India’s marginalized communities, and one of the newest projects is the Eternal Gandhi Museum Houston.For example, the homepage of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad America hardly looks like the website of an organization hell-bent on destroying India’s diversity, anti-caste movements, and reducing India’s religious minorities to second-class citizens.

However, last year, this organization invited one of India’s most notorious and dangerous anti-Muslim, anti-Christian hatemongers Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, chief priest of the Dasna Devi Temple in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, and the leader of an organization called Hindu Swabhiman (Hindu Self-Respect). This is a guy who openly called for a genocide against Muslims. After considerable anger and online protests, VHP America decided to withdraw its invitation.

The rise of right-wing supremacy groups in the United States is illustrated by the fact that nearly 14 years ago, Sonal Shah’s entry into the Obama administration was seen as an attempt to help whitewash the image of India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India witnessed one of its worst-ever pogroms against Muslims in 2002 under the authority of Modi. Until his elevation to the post of Prime Minister in 2014, he had been denied a US visa.

A petition on Change.org, which has over 20,000 signatures calls for Sonal Shah’s removal from the Department of Homeland Security because of her links to Hindutva. It's possible that she believes the events of 2002 are buried in the past — just as it also appears that her half-hearted disassociation from VHPA was nothing more than a passing, opportunistic reaction necessitated by rising political pressure.

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,” the petition reads. Sonal Shah’s elevation to such a high rank in the Biden administration is a dark day for millions of Indians who have steadfastly fought against a fascist regime.

Her continuation, however, will only mean that the Biden government is implicit in the marginalization and the ongoing genocide against India’s poorest. If we protested against Trump for his anti-poor, anti-migrant, and Islamophobic ideas, we should do the same against the Biden government.

Anyone who remains silent against oppression sides with the oppressor. And no matter how hard Sonal Shah tries, she is firmly on the side of the oppressors. -Anonymous

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