That man from Louisiana

Many, in the United States and abroad, have been dismayed by the intolerance and downright ugliness that has crept into American politics since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Yet, for all the unseemliness in the American political firmament today, there is also reason for satisfaction: apparently, it is the season for shattering glass ceilings erected long ago by prejudice and ignorance.

Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favourite to become the first woman elected president of the United States. If Clinton falters, Barack Obama would then have a very realistic chance of becoming America's first black president. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney, one of the leading contenders for his party's nomination, would be the first president of Mormon faith in US history. And now Bobby Jindal, the son of Punjabi Hindus, has been elected governor of Louisiana, the highest elected office ever won by an Indian-American.

Take note: Jindal was elected not in liberal Massachusetts or hip San Francisco, but in a politically and culturally conservative southern state that is still struggling with the racial demons of the past. Louisiana has figured in the news recently as the home of Jena, the town where nooses hanging from a schoolyard tree triggered school fights that resulted in five black students being charged with attempted murder an apparent miscarriage of justice that set off nationwide protests. Yes, that Louisiana.

In some respects, Jindal's triumph represents less of a breakthrough than the election of Clinton or Obama would. He had already shown his ability to win elected office in Louisiana; three years ago, voters in the state's first congressional district sent him to Washington as the first Indian-American elected to the US Congress in nearly half a century.

Moreover, having converted from Hinduism as a boy, he is Catholic in one of the most Catholic states in the country (nearly a third of the state's population). This religious affiliation may have helped him seem less 'foreign' to many voters. Also as a boy, he anglicised his name, abandoning Piyush for the quintessentially American 'Bobby.' And his political and economic conservatism places him squarely within the political mainstream of a state that gave George W. Bush 57 per cent of its vote in the 2004 presidential election.

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