Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Time magazine recently had a photograph of Barrack Obama displaying the things that he carries for good luck. These include “a bracelet belonging to a soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler’s lucky chit, a tiny monkey god and a tiny Madonna and child.”

Indian TV channels have been carrying this photo and suggesting that tiny idol of the monkey god that Obama carries is of Hanuman. Time magazine has not specifically identified the idol as that of Hanuman, and it is not clear whether Obama himself knows that it is. This idol has four arms. In India, Hanuman is invariably depicted with two arms. So is the case in Indonesia where Obama lived till the age of 10 with his Indonesian step father. However, in Ramkien, as the version of Ramayana followed in Thailand is called, Hanuman is often depicted as having four arms. In any case, the only “monkey god” known and worshipped in India, South East Asia and probably everywhere else in the world is Hanuman.

Obama, born to a Kenyan father and a white mother who later married an Indonesian, is clearly proud of his mixed roots, and makes no efforts to hide or deny them. Although his mother was white, Obama was, till a few weeks back, a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ which actively works for the upliftment of African Americans. Even though he barely knew his father – his parent divorced when he was two - he never abandoned his African roots.

Obama has shown real enthusiasm in tracing his roots and has visited his ancestral homeland twice, first as a youth and later to introduce his fiancée, Michelle, to his relatives. In his Memoir, "Dreams from my Father," he reflects on his first trip to Africa, in his late 20's. He cried beside the graves of his father and grandfather. His last visit, to a rapturous welcome, was as a US Senator in 2006.

Similarly, Obama does not shy away from his Indonesian connection through his step father and half sister. It is probably while he was living in Indonesia as a child that he got the idol of Hanuman. And he always keeps it with him for good luck.

More remarkable than the fact that he has this idol is the fact that he has shown remarkable courage and honesty in publicly acknowledging it in the middle of his Presidential campaign, unmindful that it may draw the ire of powerful Christian groups and adversely affect his campaign. Obama is clearly living up to his vision of a truly liberal America that is not “pockmarked by racism and fear or led by politicians born into privilege and coached into automatons.”

There is another potential non-white US President who was born to Indian Punjabi parents just after they moved to the US. Born Piyush Jindal, this ambitious 36 year old Governor of Louisiana converted to Catholicism at the age of 18. There are many, many people who believe that he discarded his faith solely because of political ambition and that his conversion was not at all due to any inner calling; an opportunistic choice of a self centered and over ambitious individual is what they think it was.

Jindal has no time for his roots at all. He has never visited his native village in India, Khanpur, except possibly when he was just around four years old. In 2006, he did visit India as part of a Congressional delegation. But even then, he did not visit the village. In fact, Jindal goes to absurd lengths to dissociate himself from India and anything Indian to prove that he is all American. He wants white Americans to believe that he’s just another red skin guy with extra tan. He still calls himself Jindal – too late to change perhaps - but has ensured that none of his children bear that surname.

His father, on the other hand, continues to retain strong links with his ancestral land: he is a member of the overseas association of the BJP in the United States.

Jindal may have succeeded in pretending that he is more white than white Americans and more catholic than Catholics and that he has all but severed his ties with Indian values, culture, and ethics. That is because Americans perhaps don’t yet know that street smart politicians in India have for long been successfully practicing this art of turning entirely new leaves, often overnight, in their quest for getting political power. Communal politicians turn secular, socialists discover suddenly that they really are capitalists etc, as long the switch gets them power. Jindal is undoubtedly carrying those very really bad Indian political genes and has, with his great intelligence, skilfully used them to apply the same strategy in American conditions!

Michael Jackson has also turned white. In fact he has done so even physically with a full body skin transplant. But his harmless metamorphosis is based on the kick he gets out of an almost adolescent “I am white” feeling. Jindal, on the other hand is on a personal mission with grave global ramifications. His single pointed obsession is based on negation of everything that he thinks can harm his prospects of getting into the White House.

Obama believes that “what people are most hungry for in politics is authenticity.” And all Americans have seen that charismatic authenticity come through from him all his life. Yes, there are many Americans who are very uncomfortable with the “Hussein” in his name from his Muslim Kenyan father. There were many also who saw what was not there at all in his picture in a Somali dress when he had visited Somalia. But his transparent genuineness has overcome these and many other irritants.

He is a true Christian but is not afraid to show his multicultural and multireligious upbringing in the form of either his name or the idol of Hindu Monkey God Hanuman that he carries as a lucky charm. In short, he is the authentic person that the people of United States are desperately looking for to lead their great nation.

Then there is Jindal, the ultimate monkey, aping intelligently and in a constant state of pretence and denial. Sooner or later he will be found out for what he really is. A 36 year old guy who is ashamed of where he comes from and who wants to have nothing to do with it at all is certainly not President material. The very thought that a man with such an unacceptable level of integrity and hyper ambition can actually con the system and get to the top of the most powerful nation of the world is scary.

It is not just a coincidence that a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi adorns the office of Obama and not of Jindal.

On hopes that Americans are able to cage this dangerous monkey before it is too late.

This post was also published by reuters.com
Readers may also like to read the following posts:
1. Osama and Obama: Saul and Paul
2. Obama: closet 'Hindu' or secular world leader?
3. Looking for India's Obama in Harvard!
4. Barack 'barracks' McCain