The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Katrina wind in Jindal sails
- Indian leads governor race

Washington, Oct. 20: The merciless winds from Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans two years ago may today put the first Indian American governor in office.

Barring a sudden upset as Louisiana voters trek to polling booths today, Republican Bobby Jindal may be elected governor of the state which only 16 years ago nearly chose a former leader of the dreaded Ku Klux Klan for that office.

Jindal is way ahead of his nearly one dozen rivals in all the polls. But he needs an outright 50 per cent of the ballots cast today to avoid a second round of voting in November.

Under Louisiana’s peculiar electoral system, anyone can contest the polls and does not have to be nominated by a party unlike as in other states.

As a result, Jindal is facing several Democrats, three among them serious contenders for the governor’s office.

If Jindal fails to win 50 per cent of the ballots cast today, he will fight the Democrat who won the highest number of votes in a second round of polling. All other candidates will be eliminated from the race.

While a victory today may be sweet revenge for Jindal, who lost to a Democrat in 2003, he will, if elected, inherit a state that is more akin to a Third World country than the US.

In per capita terms, Louisiana is now America’s poorest state. It is teeming with uneducated people, a large number of them barely literate or illiterate.

Health problems are rampant and have multiplied in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and infant mortality is a serious problem that will confront Jindal, who was appointed by President George W. Bush in his first term as America’s youngest assistant secretary of the department of health and human services.

A large percentage of Louisiana’s population is still living outside the state as refugees from Hurricane Katrina.

Police brutality has become so common in New Orleans that it no longer makes news on TV here. Corruption and moral decay among the state’s incumbent leaders have made some cases of Third World corruption look more respectable.

Among the worst cases now making news in Louisiana is the indictment of William Jefferson, a Democratic Congressman, from whose freezer $90,000 in alleged bribe money was recovered by the FBI.

Louisiana’s Republican Senator David Vitter is commonly known as “Vitter the Shitter”, a nickname given to him by sex workers in New Orleans because of some perversions he allegedly forced these women into while patronising them, according to widespread accounts of the senator’s escapades on the Internet.

Given this backdrop of Louisiana politics, Jindal’s advantage is that he is in the race as a relatively fresh face, a conservative Roman Catholic who was born into a Hindu household with the name Piyush that was given by his parents.

Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, who defeated Jindal in 2003, portrayed the Indian American as an intellectual who was far removed from the concerns of the state’s ordinary people.

One of Blanco’s most effective advertisements against Jindal then had the theme “Bobby Jindal has no heart”.

But today, Louisiana, fed up with ordinary politicians, is looking for a miracle from someone like Jindal, a Rhodes scholar who reformed the state’s Medicare system at the age of 24 and became head of the Louisiana State University system when he was just 28.

He became a member of the US House of Representatives at the age of 33 and is touting his two terms in the US Congress as experience worthy of leading Louisiana.

If elected, Jindal will become this country’s youngest state governor now in office. He will also become the first non-white to lead Louisiana since the Reconstruction 130 years ago.

Blanco, who is not seeking re-election, has seen her popularity plummet over the mismanagement of relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

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