Sunday, March 8, 2009

No Indian President for America -- Not yet


There was a strong possibility that America's first black President would be followed by its first Indian-origin President. But Bobby Jindal flopped as the Republican Party's chosen spokesman to reply to Barack Obama's grand address to the nation. He showed that he just did not have the calibre, the charisma or the intellectual reach of Obama -- attributes that Americans now expect of their President.

Jindal has been a popular Governor of Louisiana. That is something of a feather in his cap because Louisiana's history is steeped in racial bigotry. True, whites don't lynch blacks any longer; federal laws prohibit such things. But Louisiana is a nerve centre of Christian fundamentalism and conservative extremism. Jindal seems to be a part of this culture.

Piyush Jindal was brought up as a devout Hindu by his immigrant parents. In his youth, however, he chose to become a Catholic to the anger and disappointment of his parents. He was so strong in his new faith that he participated in a Christian exorcism ritual. This religious act, he said in an article in 1994, cured a woman of cancer. To the ardent Christians of Louisiana Jindal became an acceptable figure. His early steps in politics made him a darling of the conservative diehards of the Republican Party as well.

As Governor, Bobby Jindal recently signed a law that allowed teachers to "help students critique and review scientific theories." A seemingly harmless piece of legislation, this was in fact a part of the ongoing Christian campaign to establish that all life was created by God exactly as the Bible says. Scientific theories of evolution like Darwinism are rejected as teachings of the devil

Like some of our own fundamentalists in India, the Creationists in the American south have also been trying to give their faith a scientific appearance. While many still hold on to the view that the earth is flat (there is a "Flat Earth Society" propagating this theory in California), some concede that the earth is spherical but not moving. The preferred term of the movement nowadays is "Intelligent Design Creationism", meaning that the earth and all life on it were created as per an intelligent design by the Creator up above. Some state governments made this an official line. In 1920, In Dayton, Tennessee, a young school teacher was prosecuted for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution in class.

In the early 1980s Louisiana passed a law that was openly called Creationism Act. It said that if one theory (evolution) was taught in class, the other theory (Creationism) should also be taught. The US Supreme Court in 1987 ruled that law unconstitutional.

The law Bobby Jindal has signed is a subtle way to undo what the Supreme Court did then. This time it is innocuously called the Louisiana Education Act and it talks about "supplemental texts" and helping students to critically analyse scientific theories. But it is clear that the new Act seeks to make the teaching of Creationism legal. It was championed by a leading Christian lobby, the Louisiana Family Forum.

The law immediately attracted criticism. The Louisiana Coalition for Science accused Jindal of "loyalty to his conservative Christian base." An influential organisation of scientists cancelled its plans to hold its annual convention in Louisiana, a significant financial loss to the state because of the money big conventions bring to the local economy. Perhaps somebody will take the case again to the Supreme Court.

Maybe it is just as well that Jindal's chances of becoming US President have dimmed. After the Born Again George Bush, the world can do without another fundamentalist Christian in the White House opening the gates of Hell.