A group of eminent persons have responded to the charge of communal association made against Sonal Shah, the only Indian American named on United States President-elect Barack Obama's transition team. We reproduce their letter below:
We, the undersigned, are dismayed by attempts to draw Sonal Shah's name into needless controversy by questioning her ideological affiliations and to make utterly false accusations against her. We do not want to speculate on the motives behind these stories. We simply want to set the record straight on the following propositions.
1. All of us have known Sonal for considerable periods of time and can affirm this without reservation: She does not in any way support, excuse, condone, justify or do special pleading for political groups that foment hate and/or engage in the kind of violence that was perpetrated in Gujarat. Associating her with the RSS and VHP is an outrageous attempt to insinuate doubt about her commitment to human rights, toleration and the rule of law. There is no reason whatsoever to take these insinuations seriously. You can judge Sonal for yourself. But we urge you not to judge her by false and misleading media reports.
2. There is something dangerous about the politics of innuendo being carried out against Sonal. It unfairly tarnishes her excellent moral reputation, and is therefore a great violation of her rights as an individual. Such projections of guilt by innuendo are deeply corrosive of public discourse.
3. None of the stories we have seen give evidence for thinking that Sonal has any political affiliations or beliefs that will come in the way of discharging the responsibilities of whatever office she may occupy. It would be deeply wrong if participation in collecting earthquake relief, or one invitation to speak at some organisation would be considered enough to disqualify her for office. Yet ill-informed individuals and groups are using these stories to suggest just this. She has expressly distanced herself and criticised ideologies of hate and division, and that is consistent with her professional conduct and outlook.
4. It is ironic that some people who claim to be defending toleration and the rights of all individuals should be engaged in this campaign. It suggests, tragically, that some of them are less interested in these values and more interested in using them to foment needless controversy.
5. We do not have to argue own cause, but all of us have been, in their own way, as deeply committed to the cause of a secular liberal India as any. Some of us have been at the receiving end of the politics of hate the VHP and RSS foment. But we are dismayed when talented individuals like Sonal, with a record of accomplishment, are unfairly targeted by people who allegedly are acting in the name of liberal values.
6. We urge that liberal civility be restored and individuals like Sonal not be unfairly targeted.
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
President, Centre for Policy Research
Chief Mentor, Confederation of Indian Industry
Director, Center for Advanced Studies of India, The University of Pennsylvania
Dr Jayaprakash Narayan
Convenor, Lok Satta Party
Ajay G Piramal
Chairman, Piramal Enterprises Limited
Director, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore
Professor, Indian School of Business
Head, Future Capital Research
Vice President, International Division, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Former Asia Division Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch