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The Rationale Behind Political Support

Parthiv Parekh Email Parthiv Parekh
September 2009
The Rationale Behind Political Support

Should we blindly support “Indian-American” candidates—even if their politics can be damaging to us as a demographic group?

Neither her name nor her family portrait provides a dead giveaway of her Indian roots; yet Nikki Haley may well become the next big icon of Indian-American success—if she is victorious in her bid for the position of Governor of South Carolina.

If that happens, from Parsippany, New Jersey, to Patiala, Punjab, the Indian media will go gaga over this latest “Indian-American success story.” And as with Bobby Jindal before her, the community will once again face a dilemma.

The similarities between Haley and Jindal, the first Indian-American governor, are striking. They are both young, articulate and highly accomplished, and to that extent, they serve as inspiring role models for the sprouting generations of Indian Americans.

But both also chose to anglicize their names and convert to Christianity, and both are aligned to the far right of the political spectrum. This is not about questioning personal decisions or political affiliations in isolation. Many of us find it necessary and/or convenient to Americanize our names. Moreover, what does being Indian in America mean? Are the Bollywood-watching, Indian grocery-shopping bunches the only ones who have a claim to Indian pride? Isn’t assimilation into the mainstream important? Don’t we value a free and open society where people feel free to choose or change their religion without censure? We would be amiss to pass judgments on the personal choices of these achievers as individuals.

But when it comes to those we project as role models of Indian-Americanness, reflections on these decisions become relevant. Seen from that angle, their decisions, collectively, do indicate a certain distancing from their ethnicity and roots. They may well be valid decisions at the individual level, and while these individuals may be held up as role models in general, can they be held up as Indian-American role models? Shouldn’t a role model of a group be firmly entrenched in it, rather than one who straddles the fence of their world? Can’t we merely take pride in the fact that Indian heritage is also a part of these individuals, and leave it at that?

More than the issue of role models is that of supporting politicians whose politics can be said to be damaging to us as a demographic group. The far right, in which both Jindal and Haley are firmly entrenched, can’t be divorced from anti-immigrant and pro-white, pro-Christian undertones. Whether or not Haley or Jindal personally engages in such politics is beside the point. Indeed, during our interview (published in this issue), Haley made it a point to state that she is not afraid to go against the grain when she feels inclined to disagree with her “leadership.” Yet, though, there isn’t any vocal criticism on record from Haley of the regressive tendencies that are associated with her party.

Their individual views and actions aside, it remains, that as heroes of the GOP, both Haley and Jindal are choicelessly interwoven with elements of the extreme Right Wing

that can be characterized by segregationist tendencies, exclusion, divisiveness, and xenophobia.

Even when the GOP base talks about the life-affirming values of family and religion, it is within a very narrow, rigid, and castigating context. It does not have the embrace and inclusiveness for which America has been known worldwide. Post 9/11, the base of the GOP has distinctly turned into a suspicious, divisive, and chauvinistic group that seems bent on imposing a nasty qualifier to the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses?,” the qualifier being, “but only if they look and think exactly like us.”

While Haley seems so far to have managed to remain distanced from the most regressive elements of her party, Jindal has directly been associated with promoting policies such as teaching Biblical theories in public schools (he has been described as the “lynchpin” of the creationist “Louisiana Science Education Act” signed in June 2008), using public funding in service of religious (read “Christian”) organizations, and obstructing stem cell research. The platforms on which he has succeeded in Louisiana, and as an up-and-coming national voice for the GOP are unapologetically of the ultra Right wing—the kind associated with the likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh. If there is a force in America that is antithetical to the ethnic minorities, and that is also deeply corrosive to national unity, these are the poster boys for it.

A blind political support of any candidate based simply on our hankering for “Indian-American” heroes in the mainstream can prove to become a campaign against ourselves as a demographic group.

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