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Bobby Jindal is foolishly conservative. Why do we claim him?

Nur Laiq | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:15 IST

The candidate

  • Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal wants to be US president.
  • An Indian-American, he became a Catholic in his teens.

The contest

  • Our media is celebrating him as a great Indian success story.
  • He wasn\'t born here. And refuses to be identified as Indian-origin.

The upshot

  • The Twitteratti are out in full force, pouring scorn on him.
  • There\'s a question mark on Indian media\'s sense of perspective, or lack of it.

What's up with hamara Bobby? Not just Bobby, but also us. Why are we so quick to claim as our own a person who wasn't even born in India?

Bobby Jindal, the Republican Governor of Louisiana, announced his bid for US president Wednesday. The Indian media immediately gushed about "the first Indian-American" to make it to the presidential launch pad.

Except, Bobby doesn't quite see himself as Indian. He declared in a speech in London early this year: "If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India. We came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans." Just in case we still didn't get it, he spelt it out: "I do not believe in hyphenated Americans."

He does, however, acknowledge that "this view gets me into some trouble with the media back home. They like to refer to Indian-Americans, Irish-Americans, African-Americans, Italian-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and all the rest."

One reason the US media might be attached to these terms is that this is what America is all about. It has a model of assimilation that's based on believing in the idea of America rather than on being American-American.

Bobby is polling last of the 13 Republicans. Why? His state has the third highest poverty rate in the US

What do I mean by this? Well, take for example, the over 38 million Americans who speak Spanish as their first language. In the US, that's totally fine because they are Hispanic-Americans. There's no pressure to be anything else.

This is very different from France and much of Europe, where the debate today, summed up by former French President Sarkozy, is at: "If you come to France, you accept that you must melt into a single community, which is the national community. And if you don't want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France." In this model, you have to prove your national cred by speaking the right language and wearing the right clothes.

America skips over this and instead focuses on building a national community by selling the American Dream, which is what Jindal describes his parents going to America in search of. Yet, he seems to have forgotten about all of that as he prepares to burnish his Republican credentials. Thus, his objection to "hyphenated Americans", whom he warns "we must be on guard against".

Such views resonate well with the Republican base, which is more conservative than your ordinary Republican. It's also the group that gets to decide who becomes the Republican nominee for president. And Jindal is going the whole hog to woo them.

In the lead up to the launch of his presidential campaign, The Washington Post tracked how he has tried to shift to the right of his competitors "by playing up his Catholic faith, being unusually hawkish on defense issues, and being unusually tough on fellow Republicans in Washington". Ditto on gay marriage, education, healthcare and immigration.

Ridicule for 'whitewashing' his roots: "Bobby Jindal is so white, he refers to Indian food as ethnic cuisine"

If that wasn't enough, he's also taken to cowboy boots, shooting and sending out Christmas cards with his family dressed in camouflage.

So, how's his announcement to run for president going down in America? Not well wouldn't be an understatement. He is currently polling 13th out of 13 in the list of Republican candidates. Why? you might ask.

It's probably got something to do with the fact that Louisiana is running a deficit of $1.6 billion, has the third highest poverty rate and the seventh highest unemployment rate in the US.

Jindal's distancing of himself from the Indian-American community also hasn't earned him any brownie points. His campaign launch was met with the Twitter trend #bobbyjindalissowhite asking for riffs on his desire to be an un-hypenated American.

Comedian Hari Kondabolu's been leading the charge with tweets like "Bobby Jindal is so white, he refers to Indian food as 'ethnic cuisine'", and "Bobby Jindal is so white, he beat himself up after 9/11".

All of which brings me back to what's wrong with us. The Indian media is so quick off the draw to claim anyone of Indian origin that we don't even wait a moment to think about what he stands for or against, his policies or his persona.

Is this wannabe-lily-white conservative the mascot 1.2 billion Indians need as their global ambassador of success?

Are we really so short of talent, in our newspaper offices and outside?

First published: 26 June 2015, 2:37 IST
Nur Laiq @NurLaiq

A visiting researcher at Georgetown University, Washington, Nur is Assistant Editor, Politics, at Catch News. She's also working on a book on the Arab Spring. Previously chief content officer for the Congress Party for social media during the 2014 general election, she has also been a senior policy analyst at the International Peace Institute, a think-tank linked to the UN in New York. At other stages of her career, she has worked for a Labour Party member of parliament in London and on foreign policy at the European Commission in Brussels. Nur is co-editor of The Search for Peace in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Oxford University Press, 2014) and author of Talking to Arab Youth: Revolution and Counter-revolution in Egypt and Tunisia (International Peace Institute, 2013).