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The Bobby Jindal Irony

November 2003
The Bobby Jindal Irony

The Indian-American community is on the verge of a historical landmark. The man responsible for it is Bobby Jindal, the frontrunner in the candidacy for Governor of Louisiana. If Jindal - who has already won the primaries - will make it as Governor, it will be a feat that will be remembered not just for decades, but for generations to come in the annals of Indian-American history.

By any measure, Jindal's achievements are stupendous: At age 23, he was Secretary of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals; at age 27 he was the President of the University of Louisiana System (the largest in the nation); at age 29, he was the assistant secretary of the Health and Human Services, making him the highest ranking Indian-American in the Bush administration. Now, at age 32 he stands to be the Governor of Louisiana.

To that extent Jindal is an awesome inspiration to anyone, not just Indian-Americans.

Many in our community including our political brass and other leaders have proclaimed this a collective achievement for the community. They are euphoric about this "Indian-American" success story like no other. He has been turned into a showpiece to suggest the proverbial "arriving" of our community on the American landscape.

This would all be well if not for the fact that in the current run for Governor, Jindal has succeeded not on the strength of his Indian ethnicity but precisely by disowning it.

As a community, we are going gaga over the superficial message that one of our own can indeed have a place in the upper rungs of American politics. If this was the full story, then indeed it would be a jubilant event for not only him, but for the community as well.

But if we care to go beyond the superficial, the message that surfaces is, "Brown skin or not, you can make it to the power corridors that drive this country? provided you are willing to obliterate your ethnicity and go lock, step and barrel with the WASPs."

That is precisely what Jindal has done. The platforms on which he has claimed his leading place in the Louisiana race are unapologetically of the ultra right wing - the kind associated with the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. If there is a force in America that is an antithesis to the ethnic minorities, these are the poster boys for it.

Jindal has not only firmly lodged himself in this camp, but is himself a vocal advocate of positions that can only be described as fundamentalist. Here's one example. He has indicated support for teaching "Creationism" in public schools. Creationism is the Biblical version of the origin of life, and it is vigorously pushed in public schools by ultra fundamentalist Christians as a viable alternative to the scientific theory of evolution.

Such is anti-minority ideological zeal of the candidate that we have so enthusiastically supported, and continue to perpetuate as the role model of Indian-American success. What does this say about our socio-political maturity? About our savvy ness as consumers? At what point would his Indian identity not matter in the face of his policies and platforms? Would we still indiscriminately support him if, hypothetically speaking, he were to oppose H1-B quotas or Outsourcing to India? (It's not inconceivable, considering his other radical conservative positions)

Jindal is an ideologically aligned candidate, pure and simple. Those ideologies are not only fatalistic to quality education in public schools, but worse, they deny and even denigrate all but the Christian religion. The policy changes sought by such positions are fearsome for minority religions, and therefore, by extension, are anti Indian-American.

As a group, we were the largest supporter of Jindal's campaign contributions. It is estimated that over a third of the contributions, amounting to about $400,000 came from Indian-Americans. How's that for irony? We lobbied against ourselves!

Parthiv N. Parekh

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