To attract Indian-American voters, a Republican party group in suburban Houston released a campaign ad with an image of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity.
Published in the India Herald newspaper and sponsored by the Fort Bend County Republican Party, the ad played on the animal symbols for the Democratic and Republican parties. It read: "Would you worship a donkey or an elephant? The choice is yours."
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The ad was published on September 12, a day before the start of Ganesh Chaturthi, a 10-day Hindu festival which celebrates the birth of Ganesha.
Now, after a backlash from Hindu-Americans who said the ad was inappropriate, the Fort Bend Republicans have issued an apology, saying they never intended to offend anyone.
'Despicable and offensive'
"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," said Rishi Bhutada, a board member with the Hindu American Foundation, in a statement this week.
"Using religious imagery in order to explicitly appeal for political support should best be avoided by any political party."
Sri Preston Kulkarni, an Indian-American and the Democratic nominee for Texas' 22nd Congressional District, shared the ad on Twitter and Facebook while condemning its choice of words.
"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," Kulkarni tweeted.
On Facebook, Kulkarni said the ad implied Hindu-Americans should vote for the Republican party because its symbol is an elephant. He asked for the party to retract the ad and apologize to the community.
Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American candidate for the US House of Representatives from Minnesota's Fifth District, followed Preston Kulkarni's tweet with her own, calling the ad "despicable and offensive."
'We offer our sincerest apologies'
In a statement obtained by CNN, the county's Republican Party chairman says their main objective was to celebrate and knowledge the Hindu holiday.
"The ad was not meant to disparage Hindu customs or traditions in any way," said the chairman, Jacey Jetton.
"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," Jetton added. "We offer our sincerest apologies to anyone that was offended by the ad. Obviously, that was not the intent."