GOP ‘Big Tent’ Implosion: Hindu Edition

To celebrate Ganesh Chaturti, a festival honoring the Hindu deity Ganesha, the Republican Party in Fort Bend, Texas (outside of Houston), recently sent its well wishes to the Hindu community in the form of an ad.

It didn’t go so well.

The GOP ad, featuring an image of Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity revered for his wisdom and ability to remove obstacles for devotees, asked Hindus if they would rather worship an elephant—coincidentally, the GOP’s symbol—or a donkey.

While the Republicans backtracked, the optics and the substance of the messaging show just how out of touch the GOP is with diverse constituencies. In a region where a Hindu American, Sri Preston Kulkarni, is challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Pete Olsen, one would think the Republicans would figure out a way to send well wishes without drawing upon the worst stereotypes of Hindus as “idol worshippers.”

In Hinduism, Ganesha—and other deities—are manifestations of a single Divine. Hindus worship what these deities represent, not the images themselves. Yet Republicans chose to promote this image in a district where the Hindu population is rapidly growing, and where Asian Americans are growing into a sizable—and still largely untapped—voting bloc.

Advocacy groups like the Hindu American Foundation and Hindus of Greater Houston have large chapters with bipartisan membership, making the GOP’s ad-fail all the more curious. Couldn’t they have, at the very least, asked a Hindu first?

While the Republicans’ attempts at cultural sensitivity deserve a facepalm, it should be noted that neither party has made a significant outreach effort to the Hindu community. Even though a record number of Hindu Americans are running or have run for office this cycle as Democrats, the Democratic Party’s Hindu outreach, as one DNC official admitted to me, is about raising money.

What these anecdotes reveal is that both parties have a long way to go before they earn the trust of Hindu voters. That could mean some pain at the ballot box.