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Indians turn back on their own
- Fernandes is in the fray, but community roots for a white man

Washington, Oct. 31: Of all the candidates in America's election fray, Sylvester Fernandes is among the most unhappy.

He is an Indian American, but the Indian Americans who are supporting him can be counted on the fingers of both hands.

In New Jersey's sixth Congressional district, which has several thousand registered voters of Indian origin, almost the entire Indian American community is rooting for a white man and vigorously opposing one of their own.

Their reason: the white Democrat is more Indian than many Indians in America. He is Frank Pallone Jr., founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans. Pallone is a familiar figure at Hindu temples and at other Indian congregations ' and not merely at election time.

He is at times clad in churidar and kurta and often sports a tilak on his forehead when he is at Indian gatherings.

Indian Americans in New Jersey have organised numerous fund-raisers for Pallone, but virtually none for Fernandes. Frustrated, Fernandes has now turned to Chinese, Filipinos and Hispanics, who are also among the sixth district's vote bank.

For their part, leaders of the Indian American community in the district argue that their support for Pallone is not only because of what he has done for them and for Indo-US engagement.

They say Fernandes is no more than an also-ran in this election, notwithstanding his stature as co-chair of the Republican Party in the state.

One in four registered voters in the sixth district is a Democrat: which gives Fernandes not even a fighting chance even if he had the support of Indian Americans.

Besides, Tuesday's widely expected victory for Pallone will be his ninth straight election to the House of Representatives.

Pallone is so sure of victory in this district, where he was born and has lived all his life, that he has even refused to debate Fernandes.

The refusal so infuriated the Republican that he recently barged into Pallone's campaign meeting and demanded that he should at least reply to his letters challenging him to a debate.

If Fernandes is an also-ran, Namrata (Nikki) Randhawa Haley finds herself at the other end of the poll canvas.

She has already won ' unanimously at that ' from South Carolina's 87th district in Tuesday's election to the state assembly.

Her election was unanimous because the district is so conservative and so solidly Republican that Democrats did not even bother to put up a candidate there and waste their resources.When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, her name will be the only one on the ballot, though an independent candidate attempted to block the unanimous choice. Rich Bolen's attempt was thrown out by the election commission and later by a South Carolina court.

As an Indian American, Haley would be someone to watch. At 32, her choice as the Republican candidate in June this year was an election upset. She convincingly defeated the sitting member, Larry Koon, in the party primaries. Koon has held the seat for three decades and is the longest-serving member of the state legislature.

Her constituency is so insular that while campaigning for the primaries with her relatives of the Sikh faith, Haley was asked by constituents if she was 'part of that group led by Osama bin Laden'.

She will become the first Indian American to win a state legislature seat on a Republican ticket.

She will be the fifth Indian American to occupy a seat in a state legislature in the US. The others are Satveer Chaudhary in Minnesota, Upendra Chivukula in New Jersey, Swati Dandekar in Iowa, who is seeking re-election and Kumar Barve, leader of the Democrats in the Maryland legislature.

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