Asian governor lives the American dream

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The Independent US

The celebrations after this weekend's election for governor in Louisiana – and its rather startling outcome – may not be over even this morning. Overjoyed relatives of the victor promised a rare party with firecrackers, sweets, delicacies and a drum troupe to lead a folk dance called bhangra.

That this noisy burst of pride was taking place not in Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana, but rather in the small town of Maler Kotler in India's Punjab region seems at first perplexing. But then consider the name of the man who has secured the keys to the Governor's Mansion: Bobby Jindal. With nearly all the precincts counted, it was clear that Mr Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants to the United States, had won roughly 54 per cent of the votes in Saturday's elections, sweeping his opponents aside and ensuring that he will be sworn in as Governor in January.

It is a signal moment and not just for his far-flung relatives in India. Mr Jindal, who graduated from New College, Oxford, in 1994 with a Masters Degree, has thus achieved a number of firsts. He will be the first non-white chief executive of Louisiana since the 1870s and the first Indian-American to lead any US state. At just 36 years old, he will also become America's youngest sitting governor.

"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," Mr Jindal told boisterous supporters at a victory rally in Baton Rouge with his wife, Priya, beside him.

A pro-George Bush, two-term member of the US House of Representatives, Mr Jindal moreover will take the highest office in Louisiana in spite of its long history of supporting the Democratic Party. Indeed, registered Democrats in the state have traditionally outnumbered Republicans by at least two-to-one.

His victory identifies him as a rising star in the national Republican Party but his resumé was already impressive. In 1999, when he was still in his twenties, he was appointed as president of the state universities of Louisiana and in 2001 became health policy advisor to President Bush.

Mr Jindal tried for the governorship four years ago but was beaten by Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, but won election to the US Congress. Since 2003, things have changed in Louisiana, thanks largely to hurricanes Rita and Katrina.

Ms Blanco, who announced three months ago that she would not seek re-election, saw her popularity plummet after voters blamed her for the state's laggardly response to the 2005 storms.

"The theme of this election for many voters was buyer's remorse from 2003," commented Louisiana State University political science professor Robert Goidel. "Voters seemed to be saying 'we don't want to make the same mistake this year'."

Jindal faced his strongest challenge from two millionaires from New Orleans, ensuring an expensive contest. In the end, however, he proved unstoppable.

His determinedly conservative stance on social issues – he favours teaching "intelligent design" in schools as an alternative to Darwinism, and supports an outright ban on abortion – appealed to voters in northern, rural parts of the state.

In India, meanwhile, the election of Mr Jindal thousands of miles away topped the national newspaper and television news this weekend. Never mind that he has not travelled there in 30 years. "You cannot imagine the joy we feel today," declared a cousin Subhash Jindal, who was joining the party in Maler Kotler. "Now we want him to become president. If he can become a governor, then he can also be president."