Indian Americans Protest Sonal Shah’s Appointment as The Texas Tribune CEO

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The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) urged The Texas Tribune to rescind the appointment of Shah who has had close relations with Hindu supremacist groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is categorised by the CIA as a “religious militant organisation”.

Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), the largest advocacy organisation for Indian American Muslims, strongly condemned the appointment of Sonal Shah as chief executive officer (CEO) of The Texas Tribune. The council urged The Texas Tribune to rescind the appointment.

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 organisations in the US, comes as a big shock and surprise to many Indian Americans, whose work centres around documenting the violent Hindu extremist groups and defending the human rights and religious freedoms of religious minorities in India.

Shah has had close relations with Hindu supremacist groups, especially India-based Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), categorised by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a “religious militant organisation”. She was an active member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), the US counterpart of VHP.

In India, the 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 the VHP in numerous incidents of deadly anti-minority violence in India.

Just last year, the 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 with the US-based Hindu extremist groups linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) 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 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 from Hindu extremist groups like VHP and RSS in India,” said IAMC executive Director Rasheed Ahmed.

He futher said, “Trust in public service journalism that is independent, impartial, and accurate can’t be built by those who follow extremist ideologies. Her leadership could be potentially used to influence journalists to protect and defend Hindu nationalist organisations 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 organisation.”

Shah’s family, especially her father, Ramesh Shah, has deep ties with 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 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.

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