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Who is the real Bobby Jindal?

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

It is with giddy excitement that Indian-American newspapers have been heralding the news of Bobby Jindal winning 33 percent of the vote in the Louisiana primaries for the states governorship and his securing almost 200, 000 votes more than his closest Democratic Party opponent.  If Bobby Jindal wins the run-off on November 15, he will be the first Indian-American to be elected governor and the first Indian-American to hold such a high elected office in the US  The news reports and interviews highlight the 32-year old whiz kid’s many triumphs and accomplishments and talk of the high esteem that friend and foe alike have of him.

In all the hoopla, some fundamental questions of the nature of the man and his politics have gone unasked.  Except on discussion lists and web magazines, no one has sought to probe carefully the social agenda of Bobby Jindal.

It is reported that he converted to Catholicism when he was a high school senior.  On his well-designed website, in a section called “Faith and Values”, he proclaims that he is against abortion, is anti gun-control, is a believer in the Ten Commandments and is against gay marriages.  While describing his conversion to Catholicism and his acceptance of Jesus, there is not one mention that he was a Hindu when he converted and that his parents are Hindu. 

Jindal is an extreme social conservative railing against Hollywood and against indecency on television.  He wants to enforce community decency laws and standards and supports the protection of second amendment rights, which means that he finds nothing wrong with the gun culture that makes America violent.  In passing, he lightly dismisses people’s right to free expression by saying that people have the right to “act foolish”!  He wants the people of Louisiana to affirm “traditional values” by ensuring “common standards of decent conduct”.  That Jindal basically weaves his social fabric borrowing from Bob Bennett’s books and Pat Robertson’s television homilies seems to be of little concern to his Indian-American supporters. 

Fine.  A politician has the right to decide his election plank.  But do the giddy Indian-American supporters of Jindal understand his social agenda?  One-third of the money Jindal has raised, we are told, was contributed by Indian-Americans.  Should they not be wondering what made Jindal convert to Catholicism?  None seemed to have bothered to ask.  He tells the usual story of how Jesus came into his life: more or less the standard spiel that every Campus Christian Crusader spouts.  What was missing in his Hindu faith and background that made him convert?  We don’t get any insight from the simple mention of how a high school friend gave him a Bible and how he read it and how it changed his life.

Should they not be asking him about gun control?  Should they not be asking him about sex education in Louisiana schools and his insistence on “abstinence only” advice?  Should they not be concerned about his opposition to gay marriage?  Should they not be frightened of his faith in the Ten Commandments and what it means to followers of non-Semitic faiths in this country?  Unfortunately, we do not find even a cryptic mention in the newspapers of Jindal’s extreme conservative and right wing social agenda.  It is almost as if his Indian supporters and Indian-American newspapers want to ignore what he truly is: an ultra-conservative Christian politician. 

None of his Indian-American supporters seem to have read his plans for governing the state of Louisiana.  None of the Indian-American newspapers have bothered to analyze his politics.  No one seems to care as long as “one of our own” gets elected to office.  That no one has asked of his affiliation to the Republican Party when in Louisiana it is mostly Democrats who have been elected governor is yet another conundrum.  His conservative agenda and his conversion to Catholicism seems to indicate that the 18 year-old Jindal knew well that that was the only way, as an Indian-American Hindu he could achieve his political ambitions.    

But the question to ask is simply this: Is he one of our own?  By what measure?  Just because he was born to Indian parents?  Does he reflect any of the Indian-American values?  If so, how?  Many first generation Indian-Americans are socially conservative when it comes to marriage and dating.  But is the second generation similarly inclined?  Some may even join hands with him to castigate Hollywood for exploiting sex and violence. But will they join hands to promulgate conceal and carry laws?  Will they join with him to proclaim that homosexuality is unnatural?  Are they willing to let only him and his fellow Catholics to go to Heaven, while they stand and wonder why they got left behind?  Are they willing to force their daughters or sisters or wives to have babies they don’t want? 

Jindal, at 32, has higher ambitions no doubt.  What if he becomes a Senator?  How will he influence government policy in terms of funding family planning programs around the world?  Republicans have gutted the program.  What would be his foreign policy agenda?  What will he have to say about Hindus and Indians challenging the “right to proselytize” in India? 

Jindal belongs to a party that has historically been against immigrants’ rights.  His conservative colleagues in Texas, in California and elsewhere have fought to keep immigrants under a leash and the party still has little minority presence.  As a minority, does he therefore believe he has to take the extreme right wing positions to belong in the party?  How does his presence in the party bring about changes in the perception of ordinary conservative Republicans about the varieties of religious experience and about cultural  diversity?  If he is just like one of them, how can he indeed influence them or change them?

To vote for Jindal and to support Jindal without asking these questions is herd mentality.  He is a brilliant young man, no doubt.  But his extremely social conservative agenda should make his supporters pause.   Indian-Americans, known for contributing to political candidates just so that they can pose for a picture with the candidate, seem to have again followed that silly instinct for photo-ops.  If Jindal’s social policies come to bite them later, they better be prepared.

Originally published on November 14, 2003.

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