‘Vivek Ramaswamy is arguably the first Hindu American politician who is connecting with conservatives, appealing to common values like hard work, meritocracy, family, law and order.’
WHO IS VIVEK RAMASWAMY?
In the summer of 1893, a “learned Brahman Hindoo [sic],” according to the Chicago Record (11 September 1893), arrived in Chicago. This “bright and intelligent” man with “very good English” was Swami Vivekananda, the Hindu monk who mesmerized America (and the world) with his oratory and depth of knowledge on things beyond Hindu philosophy.One hundred thirty years later, another Vivek is wowing the US with his oratory, his “revolutionary” ideas in politics, and his efforts to recalibrate American society on nationalism, family, faith, and meritocracy.
I am talking about the Republican US presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy.
Before his emergence on the US political scene, Ramaswamy, the son of Indian immigrant parents, made his name and money in the biotech industry. The Cincinnati, Ohio-born 37-year-old multibillionaire biotech entrepreneur has pumped millions of his own money into his campaign, vowing not to entertain contributions from lobbyists and interest groups. A Harvard College graduate, Ramaswamy also has a law degree from Yale Law School.
Ramaswamy is one of the two prominent Indian Americans running to force Democrat Joe Biden, the incumbent, out of the White House. Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina Governor and the US Ambassador to the United Nations under President Donald Trump, is also a Republican.
Ramaswamy is only the second Hindu to run for the top US office, the first as a Republican. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, ran her presidential campaign in 2020.
“Vivek Ramaswamy is arguably the first Hindu American politician who is connecting with conservatives, appealing to common values like hard work, meritocracy, family, law and order, etc.,” said Ram Prasad, a Texas-based entrepreneur.
Ramaswamy’s campaign is based on ten value statements, cleverly mimicking the Ten Commandments. Ramaswamy calls them the Truths. They are:
- God is real.
- There are two genders.
- Human flourishing requires fossil fuels.
- Reverse racism is racism.
- An open border is no border.
- Parents determine the education of their children.
- The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.
- Capitalism lifts people up from poverty.
- There are three branches of the US government, not four.
- The US Constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedom in history.
Ramaswamy recognises the Left’s onslaught on the traditional values of family, faith, hard work, and nationalism. The cult of wokism, climatism, victimhood, transgenderism, etc., has filled the void, Ramaswamy says, created by the loss of a sense of purpose among the millennials. We hear this common refrain from Ramaswamy that he wants to make faith, family, patriotism, and hard work “cool” again.
IT’S A MATTER OF FAITH
The question of Vivek Ramaswamy’s Hindu faith has come up on his campaign trails. To his credit, he has never shied away from answering questions about his religious upbringing.
Ramaswamy has repeatedly said he is a “person of faith” and “an ardent defender of religious liberty.” Rather than going into a nuanced and more profound exposition of Hinduism, he has been able to connect the relevance of his Hindu faith with a larger common good and how it will help him run the country.
Ramaswamy often mentions attending a Catholic high school and reading the Bible more closely “than most Christians I know.” “We found commonality,” said Ramaswamy of Evangelical Christians, one of the most significant voting blocs of the GOP, “in our need to defend religious liberty, to stand for faith and patriotism, and stand unapologetically for the fact that we are one nation under God.” He is also unapologetic in accepting that the Republic was founded on Judeo-Christian values.
Despite his open embrace of Judeo-Christian values, Ramaswamy has received pushback from some Christian groups. He was attacked by a powerful Nebraska pastor, Hank Kunneman during his sermon. “Are you going to have some dude put his hand on something other than Bible?” asked the pastor.
Dismissing Kunneman’s attack, Ramaswamy said he was running to be the “Commander-in-Chief” of America, not the “Pastor-in-Chief.”
Such Hinduphobic attacks, though, are not uncommon in US politics. Democrat Tulsi Gabbard was viciously attacked for her Hindu faith and “connection” with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The attacks came mainly from within the Left, including some of her Hindu Democrat colleagues in the House. Her critics labelled her a cult follower, and Hillary Clinton declared her a Russian asset.
Ramaswamy has primarily escaped attacks from the American Left so far, but no one expects a pass from the leftwing dogmas and orthodoxies for too long. On his part, “Vivek has cleverly navigated the concerns around his faith,” said Ram Prasad. “He is the first genuine hope for GOP and Hindu Americans to build bridges.”
REVOLUTION, NOT REFORM
Vivek Ramaswamy is running on a “revolutionary” platform on policy matters. He does not believe in incremental reforms and seems determined to fight the permanent government and the managerial class, which he calls the “fourth branch” of the government. During his speeches, one often hears “I will shut down…” one government bureaucracy or the other, including the Department of Education and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also promises to reduce the size of the “administrative state” by cutting the strength of the executive branch employees by 75%.
He says America needs a second “revolution,” albeit a bloodless one. “To me, it does not mean bloodshed and violence, but it means a revival of the ideals that set this nation into motion in 1776. I do think we live in a 1776 moment,” said Ramaswamy.
Ramaswamy claims that American ideas of self-governance, “absolute” free speech, meritocracy, rule of law, etc., are “radical” ideas. “I stand on the side of the American Revolution, the ideals that birthed this nation.”
In many ways, Ramaswamy sounds more Trumpian than the former President—the next iteration of Trump, Trump 2.0, but only better. He makes the case that President Trump did not go far enough in his policy agenda despite his promises. For example, he blames President Trump for not ending affirmative action—a moot question now, given the US Supreme Court making it unconstitutional. “I am going further than Trump did.”
Ramaswamy’s stance on American involvement in the Ukraine war goes against the overall bipartisan consensus in the US Congress. He thinks that one of the reasons the US is involved in this war is because of the Biden family’s corruption. “It is not crazy to think a Ukrainian company’s multimillion-dollar bribe to the Biden family is one reason Biden is now showering Ukraine with billions of US taxpayer dollars,” Ramaswamy tweeted in response to a news article.
Ramaswamy is “pro-life.” He thinks Roe v. Wade was constitutionally wrong, and the Supreme Court correctly overturned it in the Dobbs v. Jackson case. He is also pro-Second Amendment. A gun owner, Ramaswamy, said, “The Second Amendment is the one that gives the teeth to every other amendment in this country.”
RAMASWAMY AND THE INDIAN DIASPORA
Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign has many in the Indian American diaspora fired up. “The United States is at a crossroads due to its inability to compete with China, involvement in unnecessary wars, and the disruptive threat of AI,” said Subhash Kak, the Regents Professor of Computer Science at Oklahoma State University. “Vivek has the clearest understanding of the issues of all presidential candidates and has the prescriptions for major institutional and policy overhaul that the country needs now,” said Kak.
Despite their minuscule size—about 1% of the US population—Indian Americans play a significant role in political contributions. Historically, Indian Americans overwhelmingly lean Democrat and generously open their wallets to Democrat Party candidates.
According to Pew Research, 29% of Indian Americans support GOP. However, President Trump made many Indian Americans turn away from the Democrat Party during the 2020 presidential election. Indian Americans were also crucial in securing electoral victory for Republican Glenn Youngkin against the Democrat incumbent in the Virginia gubernatorial race.
Democrats’ embrace of radical left ideology and culture war on gender, crime, education, meritocracy, etc., provide an opening for the GOP and Ramaswamy. “I think Vivek embodies the Indian American spirit rooted in meritocracy, hard work, intelligence, and excellence,” says Sai Medi, a physician, and an Indian immigrant. Medi loves that Vivek “refuses to play the victim and remains singularly optimistic.”
On the US-India relationship, Ramaswamy concedes that both countries need to do more to build confidence in the relationship. He praised India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an “excellent” Prime Minister and an “outstanding leader.” “I think what we need in the United States and what we can learn from that experience is Modi is a leader that does not apologize for Indian national identity,” he said. “What we need in the United States is a US President who stands proudly for American national identity. The current President in the White House, I do not think, meets that standard,” Ramaswamy said.
Despite all the attention Ramaswamy receives in the media, he has an uphill task ahead of him. He has inched forward to number three behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in the GOP primary race. On the other hand, President Trump sits comfortably at the top with no competition in sight. But as they say, there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.
Avatans Kumar is a recipient of the San Francisco Press Club’s Journalistic Excellence Award in 2022 and 2021.