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Bobby Jindal, ‘the great beige hope’ of the Republican Party

By Mayank Chhaya, IANS,

Chicago : Being called the “great beige hope” of the Republican Party and projected these days as a likely challenger to President Barack Obama in 2012, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal finds himself awkwardly ducking unprecedented media and popular attention.

Although his first brush with national exposure while delivering the Republican Party’s rejoinder to Obama’s first address to the joint session of the US Congress was widely seen as sub-par, the 37-year-old Jindal has still managed to emerge as a saviour of the party that is in the doldrums. The television show “60 Minutes”- a standard-bearer of serious television news shows – profiled Jindal for 12 minutes this Sunday and lent him weight that many politicians in the country would do anything to acquire.

While the profile by “60 Minutes” veteran Morley Safer was largely positive, there were a few jarring notes for the Indian American community. When Safer asked whether his family maintains any of the Indian traditions, the governor’s wife Supriya said: “Not too many. I mean, not…”

As she trailed off, Bobby Jindal stepped in awkwardly, saying: “They`ve been here for so many years that…”, prompting Supriya Jindal to complete the sentence: “… that we`ve sort of adapted. We were raised as Americans, you know? We were raised as Louisians. So, that`s how we live our lives.”

It has not been lost on the community that the Jindals have assiduously lived down their ethnicity. His conversion to Christianity as a high school student and barely disguised rejection of their parents’ traditions and faith are a factor that influences the views of many in the Indian American community. Of course, in a country where success trumps everything else and for a community which values it above all else, at the first signs that Bobby Jindal could become president of the United States all will be forgiven or cast aside.

At a time when Obama’s rise underlines the possibilities of a much more diverse polity, Jindal’s nearly uncritical embrace of all things American is a study in sharp contrast. His change of name from Piyush to Bobby was prompted by his passion for the most American of television shows “The Brady Bunch”, one of whose main characters was so named. There are those in the Indian American community who read deeper meanings into the change of name, arguing that it was merely a way to erase his ethnic affiliations. Coupled with his conversion to Christianity, his espousal of Creationism over Evolution and his opposition to abortion rights are all seen by conservatives as illustrations of his deep convictions and by others, especially Indian Americans, as examples of political expediency.

On his part Jindal remains steadfast and finds no contradiction between his Ivy League education and his beliefs. A Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University, who turned down admission into Harvard Medical School and Yale Law, he is seen as a serious policy wonk. So far he has maintained that he intends serving two terms of Louisiana Governor and fix the state’s many problems. However, there is nothing to suggest that he would oppose any serious movement within the Republican Party to build him up into a serious presidential candidate in 2012.

Controversial and hugely popular conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who is widely seen as the authentic core of the Republican Party, has a special fondness for Jindal. In a party that pays considerable attention to Limbaugh, that endorsement is regarded as crucial.

Of course, those who project Jindal for 2012 assume Obama failing so comprehensively that he would not manage a second term. At least for now the nearly 53 percent of Americans who voted for Obama would strongly disagree.

(Mayank Chhaya can be reached at [email protected])