US elections 2016: Jindal explores White House run, Indian Americans soften hostility

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: May 20, 2015 08:15 IST

If Bobby Jindal, who has set up a committee to explore a presidential run, does jump in, Indian Americans appear ready to support him, overcoming past reservations.

The community, which has about 1.5 million votes and considerably more financial clout, has felt aggrieved by, as seen by it, a studied attempt by Jindal to distance himself from it.

Many of them supported him in his previous races — for governor and congress — irrespective of their party affiliations, and felt “dumped”, as he cut himself loose, apparently.

Jindal announced an exploratory committee on Monday, saying, “For some time now, my wife Supriya and I have been thinking and praying about whether to run for the Presidency.”

“If I run, my candidacy will be based on the idea that the American people are ready to try a dramatically different direction. Not a course correction, but a dramatically different path.”

He is the second Republican to have announced an exploratory committee for the 2016 race, an optional first-step towards a full-fledged run, after Jeb Bush, former Florida governor.

Jindal, a two-term Louisiana governor, has been preparing for a run for a while, but has trailed badly in most opinion polls, which he has dismissed as too early to be taken seriously.

But if decides to press ahead, and run, he will find Indian American ready to welcome him back into the fold, and support his candidacy, if he asked and worked towards it.

“He is good man, a bright guy,” said K V Kumar, who has worked with two Republican presidents. “People misunderstand him for the way he speaks. He needs to change that.’

Jindal famously said some weeks ago that he was tired of hyphenated Americans. “I don't know about you, I'm tired of the hyphenated Americans. No more 'African-Americans.' No more 'Indian-Americans.' No more ‘Asian-Americans.” He added his parents came to the US not to rise Indian Americans.

That remark upset some in the community who argued that he doesn’t have to give up his heritage to look and become mainstream — “would Rubio give-up being Cuban American?”

Republican senator Marco Rubio, who has declared he is running for the White House, is Cuban American and is expected to use that to reach out to Hispanics.

But there is a growing understanding in the community of why, if at all, Jindal did indeed move away from the community. He had to, they acknowledged, to broaden his appeal.

“I don’t know his reasons, but he probably did that to appear mainstream,” said Puneet Ahluwalia, a Republican strategist, adding, "and that's a good enough reason."

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