The Cable

India Twitter to Bobby Jindal: Welcome to the Presidential Party, Pal!

Indians took to social media to mock Gov. Bobby Jindal's entry into the Republican presidential race.

KENNER, LA - JUNE 24:  Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announces his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential nomination during a rally a he Pontchartrain Center on June 24, 2015 in Kenner, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
KENNER, LA - JUNE 24: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announces his candidacy for the 2016 Presidential nomination during a rally a he Pontchartrain Center on June 24, 2015 in Kenner, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

This week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2016. On Thursday, Twitter declared war on the governor.

For many, the most galling moments of his announcement speech came about 20 minutes in, following an otherwise optimistic description of the United States as a rainbow nation for all. “We are not Indian-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans. We are all Americans,” he said.

So far, so good. But he went on, scolding some immigrants for coming to the United States to “use our freedoms to undermine our freedoms,” akin to “what has happened in Europe, where they have second- and third-generations of immigrants who refuse to embrace the values and culture of the countries they have moved into.” Immigrants, he added, should be quick to embrace American values and learn English.

To the ears of many Indians both in the United States and in India, Jindal seemed only too happy to collapse all cultural differences that exist between different ethnic groups in the United States, and speak as if they have no impact on their daily lives. By suggesting that immigrants coming to the United States threaten its very foundations, Jindal readily draped himself — and his candidacy — in the rhetoric of the GOP’s immigrant hardliners. A safe move for someone seeking their nomination.

Soon after the announcement, New York-based comedian Hari Kondabolu took to Twitter to with the hashtag #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite. The results ranged from low-brow to chortle-inducing to the slightly esoteric.

This vituperative reaction stems from the perception that Jindal, the Catholic-converted, Brown University and Oxford-educated son of Indian immigrants, has forged a career in Republican politics largely by distancing himself from his Indian heritage, while embracing right-wing positions on issues like gun rights, and government spending. (The controversy sparked by this portrait back in February doesn’t help, either.)

But his apparent desire to have it both ways on his own immigrant history will undoubtedly continue to fluster Jindal as he seeks to climb to the top of a crowded field of Republican contenders. On the one hand, he seems demonstrably capable of praising his own immigrant history, softly and thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my parents’ background, Jindal told the Washington Post in a piece published earlier this week. Those parents, who came to the United States from the Punjabi village of Khanpur in 1971, “put a strong emphasis on education, hard work, an unshakable faith,” proving that “[i]t doesn’t matter who you are or what your last name is. You can be anything in America.”

Yet Jindal also famously chose to leave that faith, Hinduism, and embrace a particularly evangelical Christianity with no real analogue in Indian culture. This crucial piece of his biography — a part that carries great weight with religious conservatives in the United States – has only helped reinforce the notion of Jindal as willing and eager to leave his roots behind. While that may have turned Jindal into a compelling, ever-rising star in Republican circles, it has opened up a perhaps unbridgeable gap between himself and Indians everywhere.

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner / Getty Images News

Siddhartha Mahanta is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. A Texas native and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he has also worked for Mother Jones, National Journal, and the PBS Newshour. @sidhubaba

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