A different Indian in Washington


When the Republicans formulated their response to the Obama budget, they picked Bobby Jindal to deliver it. Who is this staunchly-Catholic ethnically-Indian governor of the Deep South state of Louisiana, touted as the Republicans' best bet against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential elections?

Many Indians aspire to be President of India. But only one Indian, at least for the moment, can aspire to be President of the United States.

Not that Piyush “Bobby” Jindal has ever expressed his presidential ambition in public. But anyone who has witnessed how this young man mounted the civil service and political ladders will be left with little doubt that the White House is his ultimate aim.

Jindal was born in 1971 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, soon after his parents emigrated from Punjab. Since then he has amassed impressive credentials: a degree from the prestigious Brown University; a Masters from Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Island scholar; as a consultant at McKinsey; then as head of Louisiana’s health department, where he turned a US$400-million deficit into a US$220-million surplus in three years; and more recently, as assistant secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Service, appointed by Bush.

On January 18, he chalks up another record when he is sworn in as Governor of Louisiana. He is the first Indian-American to hold the post of Governor, and at 36, he is also the youngest. In the 2007 election for governorship, he took 54% of the votes, more than three times that of his closest rival. The overwhelming support has given him a clear mandate to carry out his election promise to clean up corruption and bring Louisiana into a better tomorrow.

If Jindal performs well in his new job, his next move could be to Washington DC, as a senator representing his state or in the cabinet of a new president. After which, it could well be the White House.

Jindal is lucky in that he was born after his parents reached America. This made him an American at birth – the essential qualification for a president. He was also born a Hindu but converted to Christianity as a teenager. This removes one obstacle to his rise in essentially xenophobic American politics. Certainly, his testimony to the many parishes in Louisiana in last year’s election had gone a long way to help him get elected.

Is his race a problem? The voters in Louisiana have already stated that it is not. America now has its first black president. Perhaps in a decade, it will be open to an Indian president. Jindal will then only be 46, the same age Bill Clinton was when he became President.


First Published: 
February 2008


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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.

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