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An Iraq war veteran, 37-year-old Tulsi Gabbard is known as a Democrat the Republicans love.

New Delhi: At 37 years old, Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat who has thrown her hat in the ring for the 2020 US presidential race, has many firsts to her name.

She is the first Hindu in the US Congress (the first, also, to take her oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita), the youngest person to have been elected state legislator, and the first American-Samoan to be elected to the Congress.

However, what she remains for many is a paradox. Her bid to run for President in the United States has triggered an extensive investigation into Gabbard’s views, as they were and how they have evolved.

“When Gabbard entered politics, she was only twenty-one, and in those early years she was a social conservative, pro-life and active in the fight against same-sex marriage,” a profile in The New Yorker dated 6 November 2017 says.

In 2004, for example, opposing legislation to legalise same-sex marriage, she referred to gays as “homosexual extremists”.

“She is now pro-choice and pro-same-sex-marriage: On these and other issues, she has evolved enough to be almost — but not quite — at home in the contemporary Democratic Party, which is increasingly progressive, particularly on issues of gender and sexual orientation,” it adds.

In 2017, she raised eyebrows with her meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a man the US officially considers a war criminal for his alleged use of chemical weapons amid the ongoing civil war in the country.

“Initially I hadn’t planned on meeting him,” The Guardian quoted Gabbard as telling CNN in an interview. “When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so, because I felt it’s important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace. And that’s exactly what we talked about.”

In November 2015, Gabbard had introduced a bipartisan bill to “end the illegal war” against Syria.

“The US is waging two wars in Syria,” she stated. “The first is the war against ISIS and other Islamic extremists, which Congress authorised after the terrorist attacks on 9/11.”

The second war, she said, “is the illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad”.


Also read: Tulsi Gabbard, first Hindu member of US Congress, to run for president in 2020


‘A rising star’

Gabbard was born on 12 April 1981, in American Samoa, but grew up in Hawai’i.

Her interest in Hinduism came with her upbringing, with her father, Mike Gabbard, said to have been inspired by the religion, as evidenced by her name.

In 2002, Gabbard became the youngest person to be elected a state legislator from Hawai’i. Soon afterwards, in 2004, she became one of the few people to forfeit public office to serve in a war zone [Iraq]. She is one of the first two female combat veterans to serve in the US Congress.

A paradox

In an article in The Washington Post, Gabbard was described as a “Democrat that Republicans love and the DNC [Democratic National Committee, the body that governs the party] can’t control”.

“What’s more, Gabbard has been glorified in the conservative media,” the article added. “Her criticism of Obama’s failure to cite ‘Islamic extremism’ earned her appearances on Fox News,” it said.

Fox News is a popular US news channel with a known conservative bent.

In 2016, Gabbard resigned as vice-chair from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Bernie Sanders’ run for the presidency, ahead of his debates with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Ever since, the doubt that she may be stealthily working for the Republican cause in a Democrat’s skin never went away. Even her later claims that she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election was always viewed as reluctant.

There were some murmurs as she visited the Trump Tower after the 2016 presidential race to meet the controversial president-elect.

In March 2015, she was one of the few progressive Democrats to attend Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress, which came during the Israeli election.

However, at the same time, she has been a vocal critic of Israel’s crackdown on protests on Gaza’s border by Palestinians.

In 2014, Gabbard met Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But, last year, she refused to chair the World Hindu Congress since she did not want to participate in India’s “partisan politics”.

Gabbard has insisted that “war and peace” will be the central theme for her campaign, but her war for presidency seems to have just begun.

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