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Hindus return Obama tribute

Hindus return Obama tribute

Author: K.P. Nayar
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: April 30, 2009
URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com//1090430/jsp/nation/story_10896912.jsp

Barack Obama, who created history as the first US President to acknowledge a Hindu America in his inaugural address on January 20, today received a favourable report card from an unusual source on completion of his first 100 days in office: from Hindu America.

Among other things, Obama was praised by the Hindu Collective Initiative of North America for having appointed an Indian American, Sonal Shah, as head of a new Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House a few days ago.

Shah was appointed by Obama in November 2008 to his presidential transition team to advise on "innovation and civil society", but was the subject of an intense smear campaign by secularists in India and the US acting in concert for her association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America and for rubbing shoulders with Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Shah, who headed Google Global Development Initiatives, the search engine's philanthropic arm, before joining the transition team, was then asked to lie low and she went back to work for Google as Obama became President.

Two weeks ago, Shah was brought back into the Obama team and made head of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, though her appointment was not announced in public as is the norm, possibly to avoid a resumption of the campaign against her.

The White House only confirmed her appointment to reporters who specifically queried about it.

"One of the most significant aspects of our collective hopes was that his (Obama's) administration will be more inclusive than previous ones," the Hindu Collective Initiative of North America said in a press release to mark Obama's 100 days as President.

It noted that at least eight Hindus have joined the Obama team as salaried presidential appointees so far, though none of them were employed because of their religious faith.

The Hindu organisation praised Obama for including a Hindu among the six religious figures who delivered "responsive prayers" at the National Prayer Service a day after the new President was sworn in.

Uma Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, a gynaecologist who heads a Ganesha temple committee in New York, became an object of curious national interest in the US after her sari-clad presence at the nationally televised prayer service.

Late night comedians suggested that Obama should become a Hindu in the context of earlier criticism of his association with a radical Christian pastor in Illinois, the President's home state.

The National Prayer Service is a tradition in the US that ends the formal swearing-in events, at which prayers, hymns and blessings are delivered by faith leaders from across the US, but did not include a Hindu until the Obama presidency.

Obama was also praised for appointing a woman Hindu priest to the White House Advisory Council of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships three weeks ago.

Anju Bhargava, the priest, is a high-tech businesswoman who graduated from Chennai, later obtained her MBA from Rutgers University and has been associated with, among other institutions, Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the Kellogg School of Management.

"Bhargava's appointment affords the Hindu community a voice on par in the religious and community development landscape of America," the Hindu Collective said in its report card.

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