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Bobby Jindal enters US Congress

The 33-year-old political whizkid is the second NRI to win a US Congressional seat since Dalip Singh Saund was elected in 1956.
PTI | By S Rajagopalan, Washington
PUBLISHED ON NOV 07, 2004 05:09 AM IST
Republican Bobby Jindal has made history with a landslide win to the US Congress. The 33-year-old political whizkid is the first Indian American to enter the House of Representatives after a gap of nearly 50 years.

For long regarded as a shoo-in from Louisiana's first congressional district, Jindal effectively avenged his narrow defeat in last year's gubernatorial race. Jindal, who had been handpicked by President Bush for a key slot in his administration earlier on, romped home with an astounding 78 per cent of the vote.

Two other Indian Americans came out with flying colours in state elections. Democrat Swati Dandekar was re-elected as state representative from Iowa, while Republican Nikki Randhawa Haley was elected to the South Carolina assembly.

Yet another woman of Indian stock, Republican Jay Rao, put up a spirited fight in the race for North Carolina's secretary of state before losing to Democratic incumbent Elaine Marshall. Rao garnered 1,374,110 votes (43.12 per cent) as against Marshall's 1,812,271 votes (56.88 per cent).

This is the first time that Indian Americans from the Republican fold have achieved success. All the four serving Indian legislators have been Democrats --Kumar Barve of Maryland House of Delegates, Satveer Chaudhary of Minnesota Senate, Upendra Chivkula of New Jersey Assembly and Dandekar.

The icing on the cake was really Jindal's massive victory from his home state of Louisiana. The only other Indian American to have been elected to the House of Representatives was the late Dalip Singh Saund, a Democrat from California, way back in 1956.

Jindal's victory was never in doubt. With a head start in the race, he ran a spirited campaign for which he had raised $ 2 million. The Democrats never had a chance but they had put up five candidates in a bid to force a run-off election by denying Jindal the requisite 50.1 per cent for an outright win.

But Jindal, a Rhodes scholar and former president of the University of Louisiana system, upset those calculations by polling 209,652 votes. His nearest Democratic opponent Roy Armstrong managed a mere 18,032 votes.

Having served the Bush administration as assistant secretary of health and human services, Jindal is expected to be actively involved in key House committee assignments.

In South Carolina, Nikki Randhawa Haley's victory was a foregone conclusion. The decks had been cleared last June when the young Sikh woman had pipped a fellow Republican in the party primaries. Her name was the only on the ballot after a bid by an Independent had fallen by the wayside. The Democrats chose not to put up a candidate in the heavily Republican segment.

In Iowa, Nagpur-born Swati Dandekar had a smooth sailing in her re-election bid to the state assembly, defeating her Republican opponent by 10 percentage points. The 53-year-old Dandekar, who has lived in Iowa for the last 30 years, overcame a fierce campaign. She has been closely involved with John Kerry's campaign in Iowa.

Another interesting contest involving an Indian American was witnessed in New Jersey -- Republican Sylvester Fernandes who sought to take on the popular India Caucus founder Frank Pallone for the US Congress. But Pallone, who enjoys the community's backing, scored a handsome win (67.78 per cent) as against Fernandes's 30.25 per cent votes.

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