who is the Crimson's Editorial Editor --
"Hearing his policies and not his name, Louisiana's recently
inaugurated governor sounds like a traditional Southern conservative.
He has a track record of supporting permanent military presence in
Iraq, legislating against a woman's right to an abortion, allowing
government surveillance without a warrant, upholding tough immigration
enforcement, shooting down gun control laws, and prohibiting human
embryonic stem cell research. Indeed, the main reason Bobby Jindal—the
state's first minority governor since Reconstruction—catapulted to
victory was that he was so utterly indistinguishable from the mostly
white voting base.
Why, then, do so many Indian-Americans support him? After all, Indians
voted for Kerry over Bush in the 2004 election by a four-to-one ratio,
and are overwhelmingly registered as Democrats. Jindal, however, is
all business and no bleeding heart. As Times of India columnist Shashi
Tharoor writes in his scathing piece "Should We Be Proud of Bobby
Jindal?" "Many Indians born in America have tended to sympathize with
other people of color, identifying their lot with other immigrants,
the poor, the underclass… None of this for Bobby." The unpleasant
truth is that he's a desi hero for the wrong reasons—lauded not for
his beliefs but for his race.
This is not to say that Indians in the States don't have their doubts
about Jindal; some do. For many, though, any qualms over Jindal's
neoconservative politics are overcome by pride in his brown skin and
the progress this supposedly signifies. Unfortunately, this perception
is mostly wishful thinking. Unlike the immigrant families I know who
still proudly hang diwali lanterns and shop at the local Bharat
Bazaar, Jindal has done the best he can to assimilate by erasing his
cultural origins. Changing his name as a child from the Punjabi Piyush
to that of his favorite character on The Brady Bunch, converting from
Hinduism to Christianity as a senior in high school (and later asking
his wife to do the same), attending Brown University and Oxford as a
Rhodes Scholar, working as a consultant at McKinsey, and adopting a
flat Louisiana drawl—the only part of "Indian-American" he embodies
lies after the hyphen.
This raises an unsettling question: does a minority have to "act
white" to get elected? As is the case with many politicians, it's hard
to discern Jindal's genuine beliefs from statements designed to cater
to the average Louisiana voter. Although his broad platform promise to
"end corruption in Louisiana" is universally appealing, you can bet
that the more extreme viewpoints he dishes up to white Republicans get
omitted from the soothing "heritage" speeches he gives at
Indian-American fundraising dinners. Jindal has been very successful
indeed at working his innate advantage and tapping the latent ethnic
pride (some would call it racism) felt by other people of his color.
Race-based politics are nothing new, of course—you can trace the
effect of racial issues on government all the way from the civil
rights movement to the debate over Barack Obama's "electability"
raging today. Whether or not the Indian vote actually affected the
election, however (the magnitude of Jindal's victory makes it
unlikely), it's a pity that so many influential members of the Indian
community unquestioningly followed the lead of a man with whom they
shared only superficial similarities.
Reactions to Jindal by Indians in the homeland have been more negative
than those in the American Diaspora. But the mentality there, as well
as here, is telling. Following the news of Jindal's win, the Times of
India telephoned Bobby's cousin Gulshan. "It's a great honor not just
for our family, but Punjab and the nation as well, [for] the son of
this soil [to] have achieved something really big," he said.
Meanwhile, celebrations were erupting in Jindal's ancestral village of
Khanpura, as locals shared sweets and danced exultantly to bhangra
music. Nobody asked what Jindal stood for. "
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