Washington : Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has hit back at critics who accuse the Democratic presidential hopeful of being a “Hindu nationalist”, saying questioning her commitment to America while not probing non-Hindu leaders creates a “double standard” that can only be rooted in “religious bigotry”.
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Gabbard, the four-term lawmaker said from Hawaii, wrote an op-ed for the Religious News Services on Sunday, describing the campaign against her, supporters and donors as “profiling and targeting of Hindu Americans and ascribing to them motives without any basis”.
The 37-year-old on January 11 announced that she would be running for the White House in 2020.
In the hard-hitting piece, Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to the US Congress, noted that she has been accused of being a Hindu nationalist. “Tomorrow will it be Muslim or Jewish Americans? Japanese, Hispanic or African Americans?” she asked.
“To question my commitment to my country, while not questioning non-Hindu leaders, creates a double standard that can only be rooted in one thing: ‘religious bigotry’. I am Hindu and they are not,” Gabbard said.
“My meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s democratically elected leader, have been highlighted as ‘proof’ of this and portrayed as somehow being out of the ordinary or somehow suspect, even though President (Barack) Obama, Secretary (Hillary) Clinton, President (Donald) Trump and many of my colleagues in Congress have met with and worked with him,” Gabbard said.
“I am proud to be the first Hindu-American to have been elected to Congress, and now, the first Hindu-American to run for president,” she said.
Gabbard said while the headlines covering her presidential bid could be celebrated as historic first, maybe even informed Americans at large about the world’s third-largest religion, but “some have instead fomented suspicion, fear and religious bigotry about not only me but also my supporters”.
She referred to the attack against her in the past by political opponents.
“Religious bigotry and attempt to foment fear of Hindus and other minority religions persist. During my 2012 and 2014 elections, my Republican opponent stated publicly that a Hindu should not be allowed to serve in the US Congress and that Hinduism is incompatible with the US Constitution,” she said.
In the 2016 race for Congress, her Republican opponent said repeatedly that a vote for her was a vote for the devil because of her religion, Gabbard wrote.
“Republicans like Ben Carson said in 2016 that a Muslim-American would be unqualified to serve as president. Democratic Senators have recently grilled and opposed Republican judicial nominees because of their connection to Catholicism,” she alleged.
These actions and attitudes not only undermine the Constitution, but also incite fear and force people into the shadows because of their religion, Gabbard said.
Gabbard said after her 2012 election, she made a personal decision to take “my congressional oath of office on the supreme yoga/Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna’s teachings have provided wisdom and spiritual solace to me throughout my life, including when I was serving our country in the Middle East during the Iraq war.”
“Those who are trying to foment anti-Hindu sentiment expose the dark underbelly of religious bigotry in politics and must be called out. To advocate voting for or against someone based on religion, race, or gender is simply un-American,” she said.
Gabbard had last September refused to be the chairperson of the World Hindu Congress in Chicago, citing her differences with its organisers who were seen close to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
Gabbard said India was one of America’s closest allies in Asia and is a country of growing importance in a critical region of the world.