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Jindal Becomes First Indian-American Elected to Congress Since 1956

Republican candidate Bobby Jindal made history on November 2 by becoming the first Indian-American elected to the U.S. Congress in nearly 50 years. Mr. Jindal lost a close election for governor of Louisiana last year. This time, he trounced his opponents and won 78 percent of the vote. His election is the first for an Indian-American since 1956, when Dalip Singh Saund won a seat in Congress from California. In an exclusive interview with VOA's Subhash Vohra, Mr. Jindal expressed his excitement about coming to Washington and talked about his hopes and plans.

Bobby Jindal's landslide victory symbolizes the achievement every Indian-American, and perhaps every immigrant, aspires to. He broke racial barriers in a district that is majority white and conservative. He owes this success to the voters of his constituency, campaign volunteers of the Republican Party, his hard work, and above all, he says to this country of opportunities.

"I think it is absolutely the strength of America," he said. "This is a country of opportunities where people are judged on their ability and their performance. I think that is very important. What makes the American system so successful is the fact that immigrants and their children born here can get ahead, can do very well, just do hard work."

In 1956, Indian-born Dilip Singh Saund was the first native of Asia to be elected to the U.S. Congress. In Saund's time, even American citizenship for a native of India was a rarity.

"I think we all follow those who came before us, we are certainly grateful for the example he and others have established for us," Mr. Jindal noted. "I am building on those who came before me, and many more, certainly will come after me. I certainly hope many many more Indian Americans come after me and work in appointed and elected positions. I think we are a large diverse community that has a lot to offer, and it makes sense that as many people as possible do participate."

Bobby Jindal was hired by Louisiana's governor to fix the state's problems in healthcare. He was credited with slashing the system's multi-million dollar budget deficit and steering it towards a surplus. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Bobby Jindal Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. Jindal says he is very excited about coming back to Washington and hopes to get a good committee assignment in the area of his expertise.

"Well, one of my priorities is to work on health care," he added. "My background on health care is in the state health department, I worked on the Federal Medicare Commission, I worked with the current administration on health care issues. I would like to get involved in helping to lower the cost of health care for working families, for retirees and to improve our quality while also increasing the affordability. I think there are many things we can do in reducing the bureaucracy to make it easier for small businesses to provide their employees with health coverage."

Mr. Jindal says it's certainly a plus to be entering the U.S. Congress, in the wake of an election that gave President Bush a second term and his own Republican Party even greater majority in both houses.

"It is a great opportunity to get things done, obviously, but I think it is also important, and the President has indicated he wants to reach across the aisle and welcome and work with Democrats as well as Republicans," he said. "We are not Republicans or Democrats first, we are citizens first. We have to work for that shared goal first. So, I think it certainly makes it easier to fix the agenda in a friendly Congress. But we have to stop partisan fighting and work together on common goals like health care and other issues."

The Indian-American community is delighted to see Bobbby Jindal in Congress. Indian relatives of the U.S. politician danced in the streets and distributed sweets in a dusty northern town in the Indian State of Punjab after he became the second man of Indian origin to be elected to the U.S. Congress. Mr. Jindal says he hopes to further solidify relations between the world's two largest democracies.

"I am really very grateful for their support and good wishes," he said. "I absolutely think it makes sense for America and India to improve and strengthen their relationship. We are talking about two large democracies with open markets, you are talking about India being a natural ally in the war against international terrorism, a great example in South Asia that serves as an example for peaceful regimes. So I think the opportunities for two countries to work together are wonderful. I intend certainly, I encourage this administration or any president, to make a visit to India to continue to build our relationship. I think it is very important whether the administration is Democrat or Republican. I think the two countries share many common interests."

Bobby Jindal, who was born in the United States after his parents emigrated from India in the late 1960s, says that, if aspiring young Indian-Americans and other South Asian-Americans, work hard, they can accomplish anything in America and can hope to reach almost any position.