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Page last updated at 14:32 GMT, Thursday, 23 October 2008 15:32 UK

South Asians seek US political power

By Brajesh Upadhyay
BBC News, Washington

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi campaigns Monday, Oct. 20, 2008 in Bloomington, Minn, for Democrat Ashwin Madia, left, who is running for Minnesota"s 3rd Congressional District.
Ashwin Madia (left) is up against it in Minnesota

Not long after Bobby Jindal became the youngest current governor in the United States, another young Indian American is locked in one of the toughest congressional contests in the country.

Democrat Ashwin Madia, a 30-year-old Iraq veteran and currently a civil lawyer specialising in intellectual property, has taken on an established Republican leader for a seat in Minnesota held by the Republicans since 1960.

If he wins, Mr Madia will still be only the third Indian American to enter the US Congress - but the surge may have just begun.

Confident, well-groomed and well-heeled, more and more second generation South Asians are quitting the beaten track of medicine, computers and business to embrace politics as a career in the US.

Unlike the earlier generation, they want a seat at the political table.

'Culture'

Twenty-seven-year old Sai Reddy, an India-American real estate agent from Atlanta, got hooked on politics after listening to President Bill Clinton in 2000.

Michael Thakur
I realise it's important to be involved in public service
Lawyer Michael Thakur

His elder brother ran for secretary of state in 2006 in Georgia, and now he himself devotes lot of time to state politics.

"Those of us born and raised here realise what's at stake for our community, our culture and preserving our futures in this country," says Mr Reddy.

His views are echoed by Michael Thakur, a lawyer in Ohio, who takes time off from work to volunteer for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's campaign across several states.

"Slowly but surely, a lot of young South Asian Americans are entering politics and running for elective office in the country," he says. So does he intend to do the same?

"Maybe soon. I have a steady job at a law firm but I realise it's important to be involved in public service," says Mr Thakur.

Both Democratic and Republican campaigns now have a sizeable South Asian presence and in the Obama campaign Indian Americans like Hari Sevugan and Preeta Bansal are among the top advisers.

Hillary Clinton had Neera Tandon, another Indian American, as one of her close aides.

The rise in voter numbers, too, has compelled political parties and candidates to respond to the growing clout of South Asian immigrants.

Mr Obama went to the extent of calling himself a Desi who can cook great dal!

Role model

In fact, there are many who believe that Mr Obama's phenomenal success will entice more immigrants to the political arena.

Athar Pasha
Mr Pasha relishes the chance to take part in local politics

Ramesh Kapoor, a prominent Democrat fundraiser, is one of them.

"Because Obama is from the minority community, a lot of people were charged up thinking, 'if this person can be the presidential nominee, we too can aspire for such heights'," says Mr Kapoor.

There are also some who are looking at it as an opportunity they could just dream of back home.

Athar Pasha left Karachi 40 years ago and landed in Texas. He says in Pakistan he never saw a free and fair election and it was always the army generals who called the shots.

"So, after becoming a US citizen me and my family embraced this opportunity as Allah's gift and now we participate actively in local politics," says Mr Pasha, an Obama supporter.

He says his 21-year-old son is a lot more active and he wouldn't be surprised if he makes it into big-time politics.

Louisiana Gov. Gov. Bobby Jindal
Bobby Jindal has raised the bar for South Asians in US politics

But at the same time there's also a growing realisation that despite all their financial muscle, South Asians haven't had a cabinet-level appointment to date.

Thirty-seven-year-old Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who came close to being nominated for vice-president and is considered a rising star within the Republican party, is the only Indian American name recognised at the national level.

Groups like the Indian American Leadership Initiative are working hard to bridge this gap and had a big event at the Democratic National Convention in Denver to boost support for Ashwin Madia.

There are many who say South Asians may be following the same path of first gaining economic stability and then getting involved in the civic process like other immigrants in American history.

What's unique, maybe, is the sudden pace it has acquired.


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