United States Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard said she and her supporters are victims of “fear, suspicion and religious bigotry”. Gabbard, the first Hindu member of the Congress, announced on January 11 that she will run for president in 2020.

“I am proud to be the first Hindu American to have been elected to Congress and now the first Hindu American to run for president,” Gabbard wrote in an editorial in Religious News Service on Saturday. “While the headlines covering my announcement could have celebrated this historic first, and maybe even informed Americans about the world’s third largest religion, some have instead fomented suspicion, fear and religious bigotry about not only me but also my supporters.”

Gabbard’s links with the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been a topic of debate in the United States. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in September 2014, he made it a point to meet the legislator. When Gabbard got married the next year, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav flew in from India with a special message from Modi.

“I too have been accused of being a ‘Hindu nationalist’,” the Hawaiian democrat wrote. “My meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s democratically elected leader, have been highlighted as ‘proof’ of this and portrayed as somehow being out of the ordinary or somehow suspect, even though President Obama, Secretary Clinton, President Trump and many of my colleagues in Congress have met with and worked with him.”

“India is one of America’s closest allies in Asia and is a country of growing importance in a critical region of the world,” Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, added. “The strategic partnership between our two countries has been a priority for several decades now. To question my commitment to my country, while not questioning non-Hindu leaders, creates a double standard that can be rooted in only one thing: religious bigotry. I am Hindu and they are not.”

An article in The Intercept earlier this month had described Gabbard as “a polarising figure” whose “progressive domestic politics are at odds with her support for authoritarians abroad, including Modi, [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] Sisi, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad”.

“That Hindus – alongside countless Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists – support me should not be newsworthy,” she wrote, adding that some media outlets have “chosen to craft a false narrative of intrigue” by profiling her donors, several of whom have Hindu names, of being Hindu nationalists. “Today it’s the profiling and targeting of Hindu Americans and ascribing to them motives without any basis,” she said. “Tomorrow will it be Muslim or Jewish Americans? Japanese, Hispanic or African Americans?”

She claimed that during past elections, her opponents had attacked her because of her religion. “During my 2012 and 2014 elections, my Republican opponent stated publicly that a Hindu should not be allowed to serve in the US Congress and that Hinduism is incompatible with the US Constitution,” she wrote. “In the 2016 race for Congress, my Republican opponent said repeatedly that a vote for me was a vote for the devil because of my religion.”

Citing other instances, she said Republican Ben Carson had said in 2016 that a “Muslim American would be unqualified to serve as president”, while some Democratic Senators have opposed Republican judicial nominees “because of their connection to Catholicism”.

“These actions and attitudes not only undermine our Constitution but also incite fear and force people into the shadows because of their religion,” Gabbard wrote. “Our Constitution clearly states that there shall be no religious test for any who seek to serve in public office.”

“Those who are trying to foment anti-Hindu sentiment expose the dark underbelly of religious bigotry in politics and must be called out,” she added. “To advocate voting for or against someone based on religion, race or gender is simply un-American.”

Gabbard was born in American Samoa to a Catholic father, Hawaii State Senator Mike Gabbard, and mother Carol Porter Gabbard, who is of Caucasian descent but professes Hinduism. Tulsi Gabbard moved to Hawaii when she was two and embraced Hinduism as a teenager and is reportedly well-versed in the scriptures.

Gabbard’s presidential makes her the first Hindu candidate from a major political party to announce to enter the race for White House. If elected in 2020, she could be the youngest and first woman to be the US president.