The United States of America’s first Hindu House representative, Tulsi Gabbard, has announced her campaign for the Presidency in 2020. She is the first US member of Congress to have taken her oath on the Bhagavad Gita.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 12, 2019
Gabbard has an interesting profile that could pose her at odds with much of the Democratic voter base. She is not as averse to President Donald Trump-like other leaders of her party. She is anti-interventionist, emphasizes bipartisanship and was not depressed when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton like much of her voter-base.
Another aspect of her personality that is expected to come under close inspection is her Hindu identity and her warm relationship with and opinions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During her visit to India, she had gifted Narendra Modi her personal copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
“It is said that the greatest gift you can give someone is that which is of the greatest value to you because it is a personal sacrifice to give up something which is very dear to you. So my presenting of my personal Bhagavad Gita to the Prime Minister was my way of expressing just how deep my affection and love is for India, for the Prime Minister, and for the people of India who he represents,” she had stated in her Facebook post in September 2014.
Gabbard had vocally opposed the US government’s decision to deny Narendra Modi a VISA following the 2002 Gujarat riots in which Modi was accused by opposition parties of personal involvement. She had called it a “great blunder”.
In November 2013, she opposed a House resolution that demanded “religious freedom and related human rights to be included in the United States-India Strategic Dialogue and for such issues to be raised directly with federal and state Indian government officials.” She said it would hamper the relationship between the two countries.
Gabbard condemned the resolution, saying the “417 weakens, rather than strengthens, the friendship between the United States and India. The resolution runs counter to all the hard work that the American people, particularly those in the Indian American community, have done to improve the relationship.” “Throughout history, India as a nation has been home to many religions, and has protected many as well, including Tibetan Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and Muslims,” she added in a statement.
The Hindu Congresswoman has also not shied away from using the term ‘Islamic Terrorism’. She had lambasted the Obama administration’s refusal to use the term. In one interview, she stated, “the vast majority of terrorist attacks conducted around the world for over the last decade have been conducted by groups who are fueled by this radical Islamic ideology.” She has repeatedly insisted that refusing to use the term “Islamic Terrorism” scuttles the ability to deal with the issue effectively.
Despite her Hindu background from a mixed-race family, Gabbard is a paradox in the Democratic party. Her stance on several issues also have changed over the years. Although she is now pro-same-sex marriage, she had resolutely campaigned against it in the past. In her faith, she belongs to the Bhaktivedanta school of thought popularized by Swami Prabhupada who, in the increasingly liberal American society, popularized an ultra-conservative movement.
Gabbard’s stance on Pakistan will also be music to the ears of Indians. “People within the Pakistani government continue to provide tacit and overt support for terrorism. This is not new – this pattern of attacks has been occurring now for the past 15 years, and it must end. That’s why I’ve continued working in Congress to cut back US assistance for Pakistan and increase pressure on Pakistan to stop this violence. In the past, the US government took steps to increase pressure on Pakistan, and it’s time to revisit that approach,” she said in a statement.
The first Hindu to run for President, Gabbard has regularly defended India against elements in the States who accuse our country of religious bigotry while excusing the real bigotry displayed by Islamic countries. She spoke about India, “To my knowledge, [discrimination against Muslims] does not exist in India. If India were to enact government policies that punish their citizens simply for being a ‘minority religion,’ I would condemn that.” She said this was in contrast with countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran where it is government policy to discriminate against people of other faiths.
All in all, Gabbard has the necessary identity to appeal to the Democratic voter base. She is a woman, she belongs to a religious minority, she is of mixed African descent and is symbolic of the ‘women power’ that the Democrats endorse. Other things that go in her favour is her charming personality and the genuine success that she has achieved during her long political journey that began when she 21 years old.
Her detractors would focus on her close ties to Hindus and her favourable opinion of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party. In fact, Ram Madhav from the BJP had even attended her marriage ceremony which was conducted as per Vedic rites. She also has close ties with Hindu American Foundation the critics of which accuse it of peddling the ‘Hindu Nationalist’ agenda. Her bipartisan attitude in an era where the Democrats have become increasingly partisan may also dampen her chances. And especially, her refusal to publicly denounce Trump may work against her even though she has severely criticized the POTUS when his policy did not align with her views.
Could it be that the first Woman to be the President of the United States also be the country’s first Hindu President? Only time will tell.