Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal announced his presidential bid last week. As he strongly distanced himself from the land of his forefathers, Indians took to Twitter with the hash tag # BobbyJindalIsSoWhite. As they churned out joke after joke that falsely attributed stereotypical ‘white’ credentials to Bobby, the ignorance and misplaced nationalism of a section of the Indian Twitterati stood fully exposed.
To begin with, from where did the word ‘white’ make an entry into the entire controversy? When Jindal spoke against hyphenated Americanism (Indian-American, African-American etc.), he wanted to let the world know how American he is. Considering the racial diversity that exists in the U.S., it is obvious that being American and being white don’t necessarily go hand in hand. The country has had a non-white head of state for over six years now.
Back home, we have seen Sonia Gandhi attempting to assert her ‘Bhartiyataa’ on several instances in the past. The question really isn’t how genuinely she practises what she preaches but whether she would have tasted her many political successes had she not renounced her Italian origin. Sonia was born and brought up in Italy and therefore the extent of her Indianness has been a legitimate concern. But in Jindal’s case, he has no roots in India. He was born in the U.S., brought up in the U.S. and seeks to become the president of the U.S.
But his forefathers were Indian, you say? Sorry to burst your bubble but the forefathers of all the Americans we know, were not Americans themselves. The original inhabitants of the U.S. are Native Americans, not Americans. Americans came from different parts of the world- Europe, Mexico, Africa – in search of better lives or as slaves. Since all Americans are essentially migrants or descendants of migrants, the only characteristic of being American is living in America. How would this change if your ancestors were Indian, Chinese or from any other country? The very notion of hyphenated Americanism is a negation of Americanism itself.
We must understand that for Jindal, India is like any other country outside America. For Hispanic presidential candidates too, the land of their forefathers is to them like any other country outside America. But they make it a point to flaunt such connections because they are politically beneficial to them, a luxury the governor of Indian descent cannot afford. Jindal’s parents migrated to the U.S. four months before he was born. They named him Piyush. As a child, he began calling himself Bobby inspired from a television show. If reports are to be believed, his parents made no qualms about pushing their native culture aside and made sure he had a typical American childhood. When he converted to Catholicism in his teens, they didn’t make a big deal of it. After graduating with honours in biology and public policy, he turned down two Ivy League admissions and chose to go to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. His rise both in public life and the Republican Party, were meteoric. He got into public service at the age of twenty five as the secretary of the Louisiana department of health and hospitals. In 2001 at the age of thirty, he became an advisor to the George W. Bush administration. He ran for governor unsuccessfully in 2003 but was elected to the House of Representatives a year later. Since then he has won every election- another congressional and two gubernatorial. Why Jindal is a proud American, proud enough to disregard his the origins of his ancestors seems abundantly clear.
If our Twitterati had educated itself a little bit, they would have known that the only thing Indian about Jindal was the colour of his skin. They wouldn’t have hounded him for flaunting his American credentials. They wouldn’t have wished for this conservative, homophobic, gun-toting, church going American politician to acknowledge his non-existent Indian roots. Although his approval ratings in percentage are less than the margin of error in most surveys, Indians who follow the American presidential elections must make it a point to judge him like they would judge any other candidate – record and policy.