GOP apologizes as some Indian-Americans cry foul over use of Lord Ganesh in political ad

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An ad placed by the Fort Bend County Republican Party in a local paper, Indian Herald, Sept. 12. (Photo: Twitter)

Some Indian-Americans described as ‘offensive’ a political ad that aims to appeal to voters in Texas and features the revered Hindu deity, Lord Ganesh. The Republican Party, which placed the ad, apologized but clarified the imagery had input from some Hindus in Fort Bend, Texas.

The ad, which is carried in the Sept. 12 issue of Indian Herald, a local paper in Fort Bend, Texas, shows a caricature of Lord Ganesh with arrows pointing to parts of his body, pointing out their qualities in capital letters,  such as – “A BIG HEAD, TO THINK OUT OF THE BOX,’ and “BIG EYES TO LOOK BEYOND WHAT YOU SEE,’ as well as “LARGE EARS TO LISTEN TO OTHERS ATTENTIVELY,” and “LARGE STOMACH, TO PEACEFULLY DIGEST ALL THE GOOD AND BAD IN LIFE,” among several others, down to the mouse and the prasad at Ganesh’s feet, and the laddoos in his hand.

The advocacy group, Hindu American Foundation’s Houston branch, in a press release Sept. 18, called upon the Fort Bend County Republican Party to clarify its intentions regarding the use of Lord Ganesha in an ad urging support of the Republican Party.

The ad appeared to be an attempt to reach out to Hindus on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi and urged Hindu-American voters in the county to vote Republican by asking “Would you worship a donkey or an elephant? The choice is yours.”

“While we appreciate the Fort Bend County GOP’s attempt to reach out to Hindus on an important Hindu festival, its ad — equating Hindus’ veneration of the Lord Ganesha with choosing a political party based on its animal symbol — is problematic and offensive,” Rishi Bhutada, HAF board member and Fort Bend County resident, is quoted saying in the press release. Bhutada said it would be best to avoid religious imagery to explicitly appeal for political support. Bhutada also called upon the Fort Bend County Republican Party to apologize for the offensive and inaccurate reference, not run the ad again, and for elected officials in the County to send the same message to the Party as well.

“The implication regarding the worship of animals as gods was also disheartening to HAF leaders, as that is a common misconception taught in US schools, which frequently ends up becoming a taunt used to bully Hindu students,” the HAF said.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress from District 22 in Texas, seized on the Republican ad, calling it offensive in a tweet Sept. 18.

“Asking Hindu-Americans if they would rather vote for a donkey or an elephant by comparing Ganesha, a religious figure, to a political party is highly inappropriate. The Fort Bend County Republican party must retract this ad,” Kulkarni tweeted.

Letter from GOP of Fort Bend County, TX to Hindu American Foundation. (Courtesy HAF)

The Fort Bend GOP, in a letter Sept. 19, from chairman Jacey Jetton, the first Korean-American to lead the county party, says, “The ad was meant to be part of the celebration” to acknowledge the Ganesh Chaturthi festival of Sept. 13. The HAF shared the letter with News India Times

“This ad was created with input from those of Hindu faith so that we could properly pay respect to the sacred festival. This highlights the difficulty in outreach that can be positive for one group but not for another in the same community. We offer our sincerest apoloties to anyone that was offended by the ad. Obviously, that was not the intent,” Jetton says in a letter fleshing out details. “The ad was not meant to disparage Hindu customs or traditions in any way,” Jetton added.

In a Media Toolkit the HAF has prepared in a bid to counter stereotyping and stem bullying, the organization says, “Although Hindus respect and honor the cow, they do not worship the cow in the same sense in which they worship the Divine. Hindus consider all living things to be sacred, an attitude reflected in reverence for the cow.”

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