Tulsi Gabbard: First Hindu to bid for 2020 Presidential election

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Tulsi’s view on Hinduism is humanistic, philosophical and intellectually balanced

“Yes, how wonderful I felt seeing Tulsi in salwar-kameez with a bindi and Hawaian garland around her neck! I was impressed and philosophically involved when she extolled the virtues of Hinduism as Swami Vivekananda did in 1893 at the World Congress of Religions. Yes, I am glad she is with us; gladder still that a multicultural America, to which we have all contributed, has produced a phenomenon like Tulsi Gabbard.” — Shivaji Sengupta

 

BY Shivaji Sengupta

Readers of this column may have noticed the heading, “Culture of Politics,” under which my articles are posted. Today, before I embark on the subject of Tulsi Gabbard, let me speculate briefly as to what “culture of politics” means to me.

Culture is what people do to supplement their daily lives with custom, creed, and rituals. It prolongs the longevity of a people. Culture can be local, national, and – nowadays – even international. Politics comes from the word “polity,” meaning people’s ideologically motivated public behavior, the actions people take in public to achieve public goals. Thus, for me a column dubbed “culture of politics” gives me the opportunity to discuss people’s public interactions within the context of ideology and culture, exploring political actions and events as cultural phenomena. (Ideology consists of ingrained philosophies that people carry, often subconsciously, which influence their actions.)

In an earlier column, I had written that Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard, two women with ties to India,  yet with distinctly different backgrounds, are the consequence of a multicultural United States.  I have already written about Senator Harris in an earlier issue (https://indiatribune.com/indianews/February-08-2019/#top011).

Tulsi Gabbard’s parents come from American Samoa, a small island on the South Pacific, an “unincorporated, unorganized” territory of the United States since 1889. She was born in 1981 in Leloaloa, American Samoa, to Mike Gabbard and Carol Porter. They migrated to Hawai when Tulsi was two years old. She became a Congress-woman from Honolulu in 2013, winning three back to back elections.

Of special interest to Indians in America is the fact that Tulsi Gabbard was born Hindu, her mother having converted to Hinduism. Her father, though a Catholic, nevertheless is also highly influenced by ISKON, the America-based Krishna Consciousness group. Indeed, Ms. Gabbard was sworn in as congresswoman by then-Speaker John Boehner, not on the Holy Bible but the <em>Bhagvat-Gita</em>.

This Hindu-connection has created a fair amount of controversy for Tulsi Gabbard. There have been charges by even those Americans who had initially supported her that she is pro-Hindu and a supporter of Hindu fundamentalism with distinct sympathies for not only the BJP but also its provenance organization, RSS known to be vehemently anti-Muslim and pro-Hindutwa.

For my part, I haven’t seen anything in Tulsi’s speeches or in her numerous television appearances that justify the connection. Yes, she is Hindu; but from what I have seen, heard and read, Tulsi Gabbard’s views on Hinduism is humanistic, philosophical and intellectually balanced. As India’s second president and eminent scholar of Hindu philosophy, Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, said, Tulsi Gabbard speaks of Hinduism as a way of life.

Ms. Gabbard is unequivocally anti-terrorism; has zero tolerance for terrorists. And since in the United States these days terrorism is easily equated with Muslim, many Americans and Indian American tend to conclude that Tulsi Gabbard is antI-Islam. Wrong! She is anti Radical Islam. Apparently, during her tour of India, she met with some Hindu fundamentalists. I see nothing wrong with that if she met them on a fact-finding spirit. In a similar vein, much has also been made of her meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. I am sure that Modi is savvy enough to realize that Tulsi Gabbard’s penchant for India and its culture, her Hinduism, will ultimately mean precious little as she slowly rises to the forefront of American politics!

Hence my caution to my fellow Indian Americans. It’s great that Tulsi Gabbard is running for president. But we should remember that she is running as an American! We, who are also Americans, should see her candidacy in terms of how good she will be for the United States.

Let’s take one example. In another controversial move, Gabbard has come out in support of American help to Syria’s dictator Bashar Asad, a position that has scandalized many Americans. But her logic, though circular, is not untenable: if America’s real enemy is ISIS or Al Qaeda, and Asad is fighting the rebels in his country aided and abetted by these radical Islamist groups, then why not join Asad in destroying them? Because Tulsi Gabbard is also not an interventionist and does not believe that America ought to be involved in regime change in other countries, she prefers to be indifferent to Asad’s and Syria’s internal affairs. As Indian Americans who are thinking of voting for Tulsi Gabbard, we have to ask if we support her views regarding this aspect of America’s foreign policy; whether this good for America?

There are many Indian Americans in this country who are avowedly anti-Muslim; have always been. They delight in American presidents criticizing Pakistan or radical Islam. My fifty years experience in this country, however, have brought me in contact with many, many Muslims, many Pakistanis who have been more than sympathetic to India, Hindus and their cause; just as there have been others who are not. As American citizens, we should not support or disavow candidates for public office based solely on their stance regarding India, Pakistan, Hindu or Muslim.

From what I have seen of Tulsi Gabbard, I believe she would agree.

Let me end this piece by expressing my emotions about how wonderful I felt seeing Tulsi in salwar-kameez, with a bindi and Hawaian garland around her neck! Her skin-tone could easily pass for someone from North India, her friendly smile, every bit Indian. My heart warmed when I saw her speak to Bhupendra Chaubey of IBN-CNN who, try as he might to fit her into the image of “India’s Darling” (an epithet Gabbard politely but sharply rejected) and the way she emphasized her international role as an American. I was impressed and philosophically involved when she extolled the virtues of Hinduism as Swami Vivekananda did in 1893 at the World Congress of Religions. Yes, I am glad she is with us; gladder still that a multicultural America, to which we have all contributed, has produced a phenomenon like Tulsi Gabbard.

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