Saturday, January 06, 2007


The last post started a flurry of activity and response to the blog. I
have over the past month been in conversation with the founders of
INDICORPS, Sonal and Anand Shah. Its been an enlightening process and
so as to not leave the process hanging, to have closure, I feel
ethically obliged to share some of the fruits of our discussions.

INDICORPS according to Sonal and Anand has no affiliations with VHP.
According to them the websites and other allegations are false and a
ploy for sensationalism. Though I am sure this depends on what your
definition of affiliation is and whether having contact, working with a
group such as VHP qualifies as affiliation. Just to make the record
clear, though I cannot post their replies to me, I do want to share
what I wrote them. If you have any further questions on the matter you
can contact them, as they are friendly and ready to answer any
questions you may have on this. you can get their info at their
website, or contact or They have been through, detailed and diligent
with their replies and their willingness for dialogue has been
remarkable. This has been an important and constructive process for
everyone involved.

Before I share my letters to them (which you can use as reference with
any questions you may have for them) I want to cite one of the
responses to the original post which I feel best sums up the dilemma.
Its from a friend of mine who does work for a prestigious NGO in

"I read the post and the comments. It's far from a clean cut issue, but
I couldn't be part of anything even partially funded by the RSS and
then cheered on by privileged NRIs. Maybe that's my own prejudice. I
hold the RSS morally equivalent to the KKK, Hamas or the IRA. Doesn't
matter how much control they have in Indicorps and if they just
contribute funding. A truly non-political and non-sectarian
organization has to be beyond reproach and keep well clear of this kind
of affiliation. Especially on the Indian subcontinent. If you propose
to work for progressive development you have to live by the rules
you've set out for yourself, even if it comes at the cost of
"progress". Otherwise, like so many development programs, you've just
taken a big gulp of the poverty industry Kool Aid.

Doesn't matter if they also build schools and hospitals. These are the
kinds of arguments used by totalitarians the world over. And I don't
buy any of that "it's fashionable to bash Hindus and brand them as
fascists" shit Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The RSS and their ilk
are fanatics, and I would argue they are fascists too, they are a hate
group, and I don't buy that "we don't hate anyone, we just love
ourselves" shit either. Or the argument from Sonal Shah's brother about
including the RSS/VHP because "diversity" is essential to progress.
We're not talking about academic debates. It's one thing to defend
their right of free speech, which I would support, but another to
accept their support and be part of their activities.

Even though there's always bound to be wildly divergent interests in a
consortium of donors or benefactors, there are plenty of alternatives
that aren't so morally compromised. Which is perhaps to your point
about the Peace Corps. Arguably it might well be impossible to find any
organization (commercial or non-profit) that is absolutely beyond
reproach, but publicly accepting an award from Narendra Modi when they
could have refused makes them unacceptable to me."

Now on to my first original letter to INDICORPS below, followed by a
follow up letter after.

Dear Sonal:  

First off a hearty thank you for your response.  It is an honor to
receive an email from you as I have heard much about you and remember
clearly when you were india abroad's person of the year.  I remember
having a tremendous sense of admiration for someone with privilege who
actually wanted to do something for the community.  I am indian, like
you, having spent the first 7 years of my life in Delhi and when I came
to new york it was a shock to see the level of assimilation and
emphasis on achievement though not on service and community action.
Your award and your having started Indicorps is a start in the right

Sonal, relax, I want to express that I am not going to approach you in
attack mode as many of the more radical elements of the diaspora do. I
feel many of them are out of touch with the realities of india and
don't realize the complexities and nuances that come with doing
development work.  I agree that one has to make alliances and we cannot
be divided, there is too much at stake, and somehow we must be
inclusive though also make the dialogue inclusive and reflective.  I
sincerely hope that this whole process doesn't offend you and most of
all that you view it positively, as it indicates for me the vibrancy of
our democracy for it is much better to have a battle of ideas than the
other more unsavory options.  So peace, love and understanding come
from here.  This is a long preface and its to ensure that my respect
and admiration come through even if my ideas and criticisms are
incongruent with yours.  We need to work TOGETHER on this and think
this through because it is a complex and important issue. We cannot
let the positive force which is Indicorps to be over-shadowed by
divisive ideology.  In that I am in agreement as my exposure to DRUM in
New York has exposed me to a destructiveness and cruelty that comes
from the desi left.

So lets start talk openly and without defensiveness, let me share some
of my thoughts and then perhaps I can get your feelings and thoughts as
well.  I will be as clear and brief as possible to get to the crux of
the issue so here goes.  Some questions to start with.

What are your thoughts on the VHP and RSS?

Can we agree that there goals and motives for india are not to be
supported?  If you wikipedia VHP it mentions their desire for a Hindu
nation.Do you believe that?  What are your opinions on the human rights
watch reports about their involvement with the ayodya temple riots and
the gujarat pogrom?  There seems to sufficient evidence and
controversy.  Do you understand the hostility and uncomfort this can

That being said, if you admit or at the very least can understand the
problem then we can move on to the second point which is your alleged
leadership positions within VHP.  Its one thing to be affiliated and
quite another to have a leadership position within the VHP. And let me
be clear that it is not your work which is under question.  I will
assume that everything you do is positive and good (which according to
my sources it is) as indicorps doesn't seem to be aligned politically
with VHP or RSS.  But what causes an uncomfort and where I am found
with an ethical quandary is that if it is true that you do or have had
leadership positions with the VHP, a group that is documented to have
had human rights abuses and has a questionable charter, should that

And as if you say you have affiliations with christian and muslim
groups, does that entail leadership positions as well, to the same
degree as VHP?  Is anyone else is in the Indicorps(in a leadership
position, vice president,E-board, etc) in a leadership position on a
pro nationalist muslim or christian organization?

Its one thing to have meetings and contact with VHP, I find that
necessary and it wouldn't be as bothersome if some of your family were
members( i am sure I have family members a part of them as well!) its
quite another thing when a founder and immediate family are part of the
structure. Thats where the conflict of interest and ethical problems

We can start from here.  I want to express again my respect for you and
do not want this to be divisive.  We all have good intentions though
thats not enough.  I want to work with you on this because regardless,
our paths will cross because we both have similar goals and visions for
India's future.  My Mother, family, sister all live in delhi and after
SAIS I will be based in Delhi.  We will see each other and I bet we
probably already know similar people.  So lets work together and be
clear with our ideas and then if we differ lets still keep some love in
our hearts as we are few, the majority of indian-americans don't care
and we need to work together to make them care so please let me know
how you feel.

P.S.  Anand also wrote me, please forward this to him and you both can
reply if you choose, as I will write him separately as well.

all the best,



The next letter is a response to the first letter. Though i won't post
her reply ( I don't have her permission) I will share my letter in
which you can make out the nature of the debate.


Dear Sonal,

I want to thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt note. I read it
over carefully, many times and it made me reflect on our situation, the
human situation, the personal and the political. When I received
Anand's reply I felt it was institutional jargon and in a way a legal
defense, a play with words rather than plain sincerity to what I see is
a process in working together to understand a dilemma. Your letter
really made me think and I whole heartedly agree with your assessment
about working and understanding all factions of society - even the ones
we may not agree with. I agree. I also agree with your point about
believing the truth based on what we may think are credible sources and
having to question further before we determine what we feel is the
"truth". Point well taken and my questions directed towards you were
meant to quickly get to the heart of the matter and if their directness
seemed leading or confrontational, please excuse me. The issue for me
was your alleged affiliation with the VHP. There are ethical concerns
in where Indicorps gets its funding and the level of its cooperation
with VHP, RSS and other groups with documented links to human rights
abuses. It is not their religiousness that bothers me, as that is
their right, it is the links to human rights abuses and a charter which
can go against what Indicorps stands for. The issue is not working
with groups we don't agree with, the issue is strong affiliations,
funding, a lack of political savvy, which in Indicorps attempt to be
all inclusive and non-judgmental comes across as collusion and
legitimization of groups which have been involved in atrocities. It's
a fine line, all this, very difficult to delineate but its worth it to
reflect on.

Indicorps is non-political though lets not confuse that with amoral.
There is a marked difference between the two as being non-political
doesn't mean one does not take a stance. And lets also not confuse
non-political with apolitical. I wish it was so easy, to live,
operate, work and do development work in india without being aware of
the political context. That would be naive and in the end you face up
to understand that politics is in everything we do (or choose not to
do) and you can choose to ignore it though it will in the end over
shadow all your great work and professionalism. And that is a reality,
whether it is right or wrong, whether it is the truth or not,
intentions will not matter if you are not careful and conscious with
your actions. You can choose to accept an award by Nardender Modi, but
it should be done knowing it has consequences (as does not accepting)
and you can also collect money from the VHP and have them list you on
their website, though again it needs to be done consciously and the
repercussions and cost benefit needs to be calculated in advance.

I didn't in anyway go looking for the dirt on Indicorps. It was
something that consistently kept being mentioned to me from people from
broad political spectrums. It wasn't in anyway leftist extremists that
Anand may have in mind. The VHP, RSS issue is in no way criticized
just by the fringe left. It is something that has consistently been
written and talked about since their inceptions. I am not saying
Indicorps needs to run a campaign against them or not work with them,
you are inevitably going to have to interact with them to get anything
done in India, but I ask that you be very very careful in your
interactions. Of which it is safe to say you were not. Having your
name printed as "national coordinator" on the website and accepting an
award from Narender modi doesn't mean I liken them to you. It shows me
your political naivete or worse that you didn't think it mattered when
it does.

Its about branding, an Indicorps like any other organization needs to
be conscious of that. You can do all the good you want, if you don't
have a strong brand or if your brand is tarnished by faux paxs such as
this than it is unfortunate. And it is not about extremism, trust me I
am no leftist and personally would do what you do for practical reasons
- to get things done. I just would have been subtle and careful with
my relations. And when these accusations are put forth, such as your
affiliation with the VHP, they need to be handled actively rather than
allowing them to float around in cyberspace. It has to be mentioned in
your website, you need to have your lawyer contact the websites that
state this about you and challenge them. It is not a benign issue and
for your work to continue uninhibited in India this needs to be cleared

There are some allegations and issues that one can and should ignore
and we need to pick and choose what to respond to. Perhaps you felt
this issue would just go away, but this is a hot-button issue and will
continue to mire the organization in controversy which would be a
shame, since your intentions, commitments and organization are
exemplary. I have heard great great things about your training's and
the experience and what you do. It is great! That is not enough, you
need to be politically savvy and tackle and accept the political
realities in which you operate. Money, power, great work,
professionalism are just part of it, all of that goes away with
political in-clarity and a marred reputation.

All this said I would have applied for the internship and I do have a
strong interest though this summer I need to be in New Delhi for family
and business reasons (if you recommend any projects or NGOs in Delhi
please let me know). I truly wish this to be a beginning of friendship
between us. I'd like to work together, think together, put our
energies together for India. We need to meet, please don't forget me
when I contact you back in the US and tell Anand I will contact him
when I am in India this summer. Also I am available to talk about any
of these things on the phone if he wants, or if you have any questions.
I am also attaching my resume for your files for any future
opportunities to work together. You may not want anything to do with
me after all this though I feel we need to work together, be honest
with each other, think, reflect and be open. Even if we don't agree,
we can't be divided in this important historical moment for India.
There are not many of us around who choose to do what we do, its a
tough road and I know I can't make it alone so I will look to you for
leadership and guidance. I am still in awe by your achievements and
your involvement of the diaspora has struck a chord with me and other
people. Please let me know if I can ever be of service to you and I am
grateful for all your time and efforts in this matter. It is truly
admirable. All the best.

Peace and Love,


That's that, feel free to comment or post.

A human being is never what he is but the self he seeks - Octavio Paz

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