Jindal, Haley Members of an Odd Species

A new odd species is proliferating—Indian-American Republicans.

As if our community hasn’t suffered enough already with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, we’ll also now have to bear with Nikki Haley, the all-but-certain Republican nominee for the S.C. gubernatorial race in November, and, in a heavily Republican state, the odds-on favorite to be the next governor of South Carolina.

Like Jindal, who has backed an intelligent design bill and refused federal stimulus money, Haley is very rightwing.

She has a 100 percent rating from the anti-abortion S.C. Citizens for Life group, and she calls on her website for the deportation of illegal immigrants.

Subscribe to The Progressive

“Given that Haley is perhaps the most conservative candidate in the entire GOP gubernatorial field—she has supported [S.C. Republicans’] calls for Senator Lindsey Graham’s censure [for working with Democrats]—she could very well push the 2012 Republican field to the right,” reports MSNBC.

Jindal and Haley have one more thing in common. They have converted from the religion of their birth (Hinduism and Sikhism, respectively) to Christianity, a fact both have trumpeted.

Jindal launched his first, failed gubernatorial bid in 2003 while standing besides Louisiana Christian Coalition leader Billy McCormack. One of his radio ads in that campaign asked, "What's so wrong with the Ten Commandments?"

Haley answers on her website the question of whether she is Christian with, “My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make. God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day.”

Not that this has shielded Haley from obnoxious prejudice. South Carolina state Senator Jake Knotts claimed she was a puppet controlled by a secret network of Sikhs.

“We got a raghead in Washington; we don’t need one in South Carolina,” Knotts said. “She’s a raghead that’s ashamed of her religion trying to hide it behind being Methodist for political reasons.”

“We’re at war over there,” Knotts added. (In the Indian Punjab? News to me.)

Knotts may be an extreme example, but he explains why more Indian Americans (and immigrants at large) are not drawn to the Republican Party: Even though they agree with it on some issues, they know in their hearts that it is at core a white, Christian formation. Brown and mostly Hindu, they are unwilling to take a step similar to Jindal’s and Haley’s.

Notwithstanding their minority status (both within the Republican Party and in their community), Jindal and Haley seem to be going places.

Jindal temporarily became a laughingstock for his pathetic response speech to President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union but has recently benefitted from being in the national spotlight due to the BP oil spill.

Haley is already being touted as a gamechanger in the next presidential election, with MSNBC commenting that “the result last night with the biggest impact on 2012 was Nikki Haley's 49 percent in South Carolina’s GOP gubernatorial primary.”

I’m waiting for a progressive Indian American to win a big election. Jindal and Haley are giving us a bad name.

Amitabh Pal is the Managing Editor of The Progressive.

Subscribe to The Progressive