In a change of guard largely unnoticed by the rest of the country, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal added an “ex” to his designation and slipped out of office earlier this week.
Indian Americans as a community have one less governor now— Nikki Haley continues as South Carolina governor, but only till she is picked up as a vice-presidential candidate. There is a good chance of that, but until then she is the only one.
However, few Indian-Americans will miss Jindal, a man they once cherished and celebrated but grew to dislike — intensely in some quarters — as he distanced himself from them.
“Good riddance, he had become an embarrassment,” an Indian-American political operative in DC said. He didn’t want to be identified as he once worked for Jindal.
Jindal, who ended a tepid bid for his party’s nomination to run for the White House in November, was the first Indian-American ever elected governor.
Before that, he was the second Indian American ever elected to the House of Representatives — the first was Dalip Singh Saund, a first generation immigrant from Punjab.
Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar like Bill Clinton, had begun to be noticed as assistant secretary of health in George W Bush’s administration. He had obvious potential, many recall. And before long, he was running for office. First, for governorship of Louisiana, which he failed the first time, and then congress, where he twice succeeded. Then he returned to run for governorship, and won twice.
Many Indian-Americans recall going to work for him. “We were young, so was he, and we were all so excited for him and the community,” said one of them, a Republican operative.
But gradually — and no one quite remembers when exactly — Jindal began distancing himself from the community, or so many said they felt — to broaden his appeal, perhaps.
“What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have to get elected president of the United States?” Jindal joked at a DC event in 2013. But perhaps he believed that.
Named Piyush Jindal by his parents, who came to the US from Punjab, as a child he began calling himself Bobby after a character in The Brady Bunch, a television show.
He converted to Christianity as a teen and, to complete the switch, he began calling himself American and not Indian-American around the time he announced his White House run.
His career took off in the meantime. John McCain considered him as a running mate in 2008, and pundits generally said he was ready for the White House. Not if, but when.
The community didn’t quite give up on him though, strangely. His White House run announcement was greeted by a storm of indignant tweets calling him a wannabe white, and worse.
And when he suspended his campaign in November, Hari Kondabolu, an Indian-American comic, tweeted, “This is the second time Bobby Jindal quit a race.”
Jindal hasn’t discussed his plans publicly. His aides have said he will work at a DC think tank he co-founded in 2014, America Next, when he was considering a run.
Will he run again? He is only 44.