Impressed by a paper he had written on the subject, then Louisiana Governor Mike Foster invited a 24-year-old to help revamp his health administration. The youngster agreed -- provided he was given a cabinet-rank position as health administrator for his native state.
Two things characterize Piyush Darbash 'Bobby' Jindal's career till date: Chutzpah, and an ability to deliver.
Thus, in the space of two years, the Rhodes Scholar who had turned down scholarships to Harvard and Yale turned Louisiana's medical system around, from a $400 million deficit to a $200 million surplus. As President of the University of Louisiana System, he supervised 80,000 students when, in 2001, President George W Bush appointed him Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Health and Human Services -- the highest rank an Indian American has achieved in the federal government.
Once chosen by Scholastic Update magazine as 'one of America's top 10 extraordinary young people for the next millennium', he adopted the nickname Bobby after watching The Brady Bunch.
|Photo: Paresh Gandhi|
Having, by age 31, accumulated a CV that would have sufficed for a lifetime, he topped himself with a bid for Governor of Louisiana. His 2003 run captured the nation's imagination: Here was a brown-skinned immigrant running in the political backyard of Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. Jindal led from the front, but relaxed in the closing stages of the campaign and lost narrowly to Democratic candidate Kathleen Blanco.
The run gave him immense brand recognition, which he parlayed into election as Representative of the 1st District of Louisiana -- the first Indian American after the late Dalip Singh Saund, way back in the 1950s, to be elected to the US House of Representatives. Jindal won with 78 per cent of the vote and, in November 2006, bucked a trend that saw Republicans fall by the wayside as the Democratic Party recaptured both the House and Senate, to win re-election with a whopping 88 per cent of the votes cast.
The August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina that devastated the Central Gulf Coast saw Jindal come into his own as a leader. After hurriedly evacuating his family from his flooded home, Jindal stepped into the leadership vacuum left by Governor Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.
While providing succor to those in need, battling Congress for much needed funds and spearheading relief efforts, Jindal again bucked the trend, taking on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to task for tardy relief operations in defiance of President Bush's approval of that body. After he was selected India Abroad Person of the Year 2005, President Bush in a special congratulatory message said, 'I appreciate him for his leadership and public service. His good work and achievement as a Rhodes Scholar, a Louisiana and federal government official, and a member of the US House of Representatives are a source of inspiration to many and reflect the character of our country.'
Done? Not quite yet -- Jindal has mounted his second bid for Governor of Louisiana; the polls have him way ahead of the field, and it is odds on that the man who has made a habit of crashing through glass ceilings will soon become the first Indian American to lead a state.
Will that finally satisfy Jindal? If his past is any clue to the future, not.