Vantage point

Friday, October 26, 2007

A longer post about Jindal

Over at Sepia Mutiny, Anna and Amardeep can't help but feel slightly proud of Bobby Jindal for his achievements, despite their vehement disagreement with his politics. If I understand them correctly, their pride stems from a guy who is "one of us" achieving something this tough, and being able to fit in, which is a hard thing to do especially in a state like Louisiana.

For me, his politics is relevant in assessing him as a politician. But they are not very relevant when it comes to deciding whether to "feel proud" of him. In the latter decision, his pro-life, anti-stem-cell and pro-Bush stance is not relevant. There are people like Dinesh D'souza and Ramesh Ponnuru who are right-wingers too and I disagree with them. And although I dislike the right-wing of the Republican party, I agree with moderate Republicans like Ron Paul, while I dislike almost the whole Democratic party. So the "R" at the end of his name does not bother me either. And while I vehemently disagree with D'souza and Ponnuru, in their moderate success as pundits I can still feel a small sense of ethno-centric pride that I do not feel for Jindal.

What bothers me is the feeling that he seems to have tried very hard to de-Indianize himself. Admittedly, this feeling arises from the seemingly cosmetic points that he changed his name from Piyush to Bobby, and converted to catholicism. Prima facie these two things don't seem that major. I am sure there are millions of "Bobby"s in India... and several Indian Americans with anglicized names. There are also millions of catholics in India and among the Indian American population here.

Yet, I can't help but feel that he is hell-bent on throwing away as much of his Indianness as he probably can. Even his attempts to dispel the notion of his being a wonk and an overachiever are at least partially in that direction too, given the general stereotype of Indians as bookish overachievers. His message to the white community does not quite seem "Hey, I am one of you" but more like "Hey, I am one of you, and I am in no way Indian.... anyone have the number of the doctor that made Michael Jackson white?". I do not want him or even expect him to pander to the Indian community. But what he is doing is the opposite of pandering, and that bugs me.

Given his intense and proactive de-Indianizing actions, I find it a bit pathetic to still feel proud of him. He clearly wants no part of "us". Why should "we" still latch on to his success?

Disclaimers - I understand that I am an immigrant, while people like Anna and Amardeep are second generation Indians. So I will probably never quite "get it" why they feel the way they do (much like Stan in South Park said to Token - "I get it.... that I DON'T get it!" in the Nigger Guy episode). I also admit that it is possible I am reading too much into Jindal's name change and conversion, especially the latter, since I hold the view that while all religions are stupid, some religions are more stupid than others.