Fishing for the Real Jindal
Charitably, we hope that Jindal is a dishonest politician -- that his extreme right wing positions are only cynical political ploys.
|Bobby Jindal’s election as the first non-white governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction has simultaneously evoked jubilation and consternation among Indian Americans.|
Jindal, the youngest governor in the country, routed his opponents in an open primary, avoiding a run-off – a first for the state. Even more remarkably, Louisiana is right wing country, in which only two decades ago Klu Klux Klansman David Duke seriously bid for the governor’s job.
Jindal is the first Indian American governor ever in the United States; four years earlier he became only the second Indian American Congressman in U.S. history after Dilip Singh Saund.
Over the years, Indian Americans have contributed generously to Jindal’s political coffers. But they were, glaringly, absent from his public campaigns. Jindal never invokes his roots on the campaign trail and even as a child renounced his Indian name (Piyush) and Hindu religion. He converted to Christianity as a teenager and embraced fundamentalist right wing Republican policies.
Therein lies the rub.
His religious conversion is purely a personal matter. It would be cynical to assume that political expediency prompted his conversion as a teenager. Whether Jindal’s extreme political positions on hot button issues – embrace of the NRA, opposition to abortion and advocacy of prayer in schools – are sincere or calculated to win over Louisiana’s fundamentalist voters is difficult to fathom. He is a policy wonk, who served as the youngest president of the Louisiana State University system while only in his 20s and led senior government health services at the state and federal level before jumping into electoral politics. His two terms in Congress were undistinguished, as he bid his time for a gubernatorial run.
The public hoopla in India – bhajans, prayers, vigils and other gaudy celebrations – over Jindal’s victory and before him over the astronaut Sunita Williams and the TV Idol airhead Sanjaya Malakar borders on the silly. But such idolatry is always disdainful, regardless of who is exalted, especially if their connections to the homeland are tenuous.
For Indian Americans, however, it is different. We have a multiplicity of identities, reflected in people who are more Indian than Indians to those, such as Jindal, who strive to one-up the Americans. Jindal’s politics do not represent, nor does he pretend to speak for, the community. Truthfully, no one really does.
Charitably, we hope that Jindal is a dishonest politician – that his extreme right wing positions are cynical political ploys.
But we do not have to share someone’s politics to celebrate his success. So let us hold our collective noses at his ideology and embrace Jindal. Better him than some other right wing ideologue in Louisiana, which, unsurprisingly, given its backwater politics, is among the poorest states in the Union.
That is the politically expedient thing for Indian Americans to do. Jindal will understand all too well.