Now that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has quit the race for the Republican presidential nomination, it’s time to pick up the pieces of this great Indian-American — or, just plain American — dream. Jindal, along with fellow governors like Rick Perry and Scott Walker, was the reward for a Republican Party hoping to capitalise on smart candidates with unquestionable experience in governance. But the Republican National Committee couldn’t help them. Jindal’s decision to exit owes to his persistence as a second-tier candidate, kept out of the main debates. Jindal may claim that this isn’t his time, but his campaign’s failure has deeper roots.
Who, or what, is Bobby Jindal? It’s unkind to raise questions about identity, especially when an individual expressly eschews it. Jindal’s dislike for hyphenated identities, his insistence that immigrants come to America to be Americans and not Indian-Americans or Irish-Americans, etc, never went down well with the Indian-American community. Yet, what personal identity an immigrant or a child of immigrants chooses for herself is incontestable. It is rather Jindal’s hawkish position on immigration that not only liberals but, increasingly, conservatives find out of joint, too. When David Cameron, heading a Conservative government, declares at Wembley that the day isn’t far when a British citizen of Indian origin will be prime minister, or when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, heading a Christian Democrat administration, becomes the face of humanity for refugees fleeing war, it’s clear that the mainstream right has marched ahead while the Jindal Republicans have stepped back.
Ironically, Jindal’s term in office has distinguished him as one of the most innovative thinkers on policy in US politics today. But he couldn’t convince the national GOP base. Perhaps the reason lies in his failure to resolve the dichotomy in his political identity — would he unpack his technocratic sharpness or recede into populism?