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Bobby Jindal elected Louisiana Governor
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Bobby Jindal was elected Governor of Louisiana on Saturday night, becoming the first Indian American governor in the United States. The Indian American community, however, has mixed feelings about his triumph.

A Republican, Jindal (36) won more than 50 per cent of the vote against a field of 12 candidates in the conservative southern state. He is the first non-White to become Louisiana’s governor since Reconstruction.

“Let’s give our homeland, the great state of Louisiana, a fresh start,” Jindal told jubilant supporters.

His nearest competitors: Democrat Walter Boasso won 18 per cent of the vote; Independent John Georges got 14 per cent; and Democrat Foster Campbell got 13 per cent.

Jindal, an Oxford-educated Rhodes Scholar, had lost the gubernatorial election to Kathleen Babineaux Blanco four years ago. Since then, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 blew away Blanco’s re-election chances and she opted not to run again.

On Saturday, she said, “My administration has begun readying for this change and we look forward to helping with a smooth transition. I want to thank the people of Louisiana for the past four years, though there is still much work to do in my last few months as your governor.”

When he takes office in January, Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants, will become the nation’s youngest governor in office.

Indian American Leadership Initiative spokesman Toby Chaudhuri said many in the community are hoping that Jindal’s victory will mark a turning point for a group that is getting more politically active in the US. Chaudhuri told The Tribune that Jindal would achieve a big political success as the first Indian American governor, but he leaves behind mixed feelings within the Indian-American community.

“Some people supported Jindal, hoping it would make a big statement that an Indian-American can become the governor of a Dixie state as a candidate from a historically white-only party,” said Chaudhuri. “But Bobby is a conservative Republican, and most Indian-Americans aren’t, so there are a lot of mixed feelings about him.”

Jindal is a born-again Roman Catholic who supports teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public schools, favors a ban on abortion and opposes hate-crime laws. “As a born-again Roman Catholic, Jindal may have cornered the Mother Theresa vote, but Mahatma Gandhi certainly would’ve opposed him on principle,” said Chaudhuri.

The next governor of Louisiana is faced with several challenges. By many estimates, it’s the nation’s poorest state, one of the unhealthiest and least educated. The state lacks basic infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Indian American Leadership Initiative president Jay Chaudhuri of North Carolina said that Jindal’s election will be a point of pride for many Indian-Americans, for the most part.

“His election is also a double-edged sword,” said Jay Chaudhuri. “On the one hand, Jindal’s economic policies should appeal to our well-to-do community. On the other hand, his social policies such as prayer in school will be troubling to Indian-Americans, many of which are non-Christians. Today, Bobby Jindal represents our community’s seat at the table. The question will be as he governs whether he is the right person in the seat.”

Prominent community leader Dr Piyush Agrawal of Florida told The Tribune Jindal’s success is “not an acceptance of an appropriate role for minorities in Louisiana but it is more of his Christian religion and conservative principles that makes him acceptable.” “I doubt it that he would have won on his Hindu roots!” Dr Agrawal joked.

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