Bobby Jindal becomes first Indian American governor

By Arun Kumar, IANS

New York : Republican Bobby Jindal Sunday created history when he became not only the first person of Indian origin to become governor of a US state but also the nation’s youngest chief executive as he carried more than half the vote to defeat 11 opponents in southern Louisiana.

Support TwoCircles

Jindal, 36-year-old son of Indian immigrants, had 53 percent with 625,036 votes with about 92 percent of the vote tallied. It was more than enough to win Saturday’s election outright and avoid a Nov 17 runoff.

“My mom and dad came to this country in pursuit of the American dream. And guess what happened. They found the American Dream to be alive and well right here in Louisiana,” he said to cheers and applause at his victory party.

His nearest competitor was Democrat Walter Boasso with 208,690 votes or 18 percent while Independent John Georges had 167,477 votes or 14 percent and Democrat Foster Campbell had 151,101 votes or 13 percent. Eight candidates divided the rest.

“I’m asking all of our supporters to get behind our new governor,” Georges said in a concession speech.

Jindal’s election brought jubilation among the Indian Americans in the US who looked at it as emergence of a new era for the community in terms of political empowerment as he belongs to President George W. Bush’s Republican party.

Jindal would be the first non-White governor of Louisiana since Reconstruction once he takes oath of office in January 2008.

He won the race in his second attempt, after losing out narrowly to the outgoing governor, Kathleen Blanco, in a closely contested election four years ago.

“Let’s give our homeland, the great state of Louisiana, a fresh start. Louisiana is soon going to be on the rise,” Jindal told his supporters.

Elected for the second consecutive term to the US House of Representatives last year, Jindal is only the second Indian American Congressman after Dilip Singh Saund (1957 to 1963).

“This is something we all should take pride in and we should celebrate his success because this leads to many opportunities for others who are coming down the road, specially the youngsters,” said Upendra Chivukula, a South Asian Congressman.

Jindal’s election becomes more significant, considering that Louisiana does not have a large Indian American population unlike some of the major states like New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois and Texas.

Terming it as a historic occasion, Jay Chaudhari, president of the Indian American Leadership Initiative, said, “Tonight, Bobby Jindal replaces the Mardi Gras Indians as the best known Indian from Louisiana. We congratulate him for providing Indian Americans a seat of the table.

“The test over the next four years is whether he is the right person for the seat,” he said hoping that as governor “Jindal proceeds with caution on social policies such as mandatory prayer in schools which will be troubling to many Indian Americans.”

Son of Amar and Raj Jindal, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal converted from Hinduism to Christianity as a teenager.

Born on June 10, 1971 in Baton Rouge, Jindal was Indian American Person of the year in 2005. At age 24, he was appointed the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, in which capacity he fixed the health care system of the state.

In 2001, Bush appointed him assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation. He held this post till 2003.

A year after losing the governor’s race to Blanco four years ago, Oxford-educated Jindal won a congressional seat in conservative suburban New Orleans, but he was widely believed to have his eye on the governor’s mansion.

Blanco opted not to run for re-election after she was widely blamed for the state’s slow response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“My administration has begun readying for this change and we look forward to helping with a smooth transition,” she said in a prepared statement. “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.”

Jindal pledged to fight corruption and rid the state of those “feeding at the public trough,” revisiting a campaign theme.

“They can either go quietly or they can go loudly, but either way, they will go,” he said, adding that he would call the Legislature into special session to address ethics reform.

Jindal has held a strong lead in the polls since the field of candidates became settled nearly two months ago.

But the two multimillionaires in the race – Boasso, a state senator from St. Bernard Parish, and Georges, a New Orleans-area businessman – poured millions of their own dollars into their campaigns to try to prevent Jindal’s victory.

Campbell, a public service commissioner from Bossier Parish, had less money but ran on a singular plan: scrapping the state income tax on businesses and individuals and levying a new tax on oil and gas processed in Louisiana.

The race was among the highest spending ones in Louisiana history. Jindal alone raised $11 million, and Georges poured about $10 million of his personal wealth into his campaign war chest while Boasso plugged in nearly $5 million of his own cash.