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South Asians swing to Obama in Ohio

Niharika Mookerjee
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November 04, 2008 12:30 IST
Last Updated: November 06, 2008 00:05 IST

With under eight hours to go before polling begins, Ohio's rolling landscape of golden cornfields dotted with the legacy of the once-booming manufacturing industries is rife with signs that the race for the White House could be tight.

Republican hopeful Senator John McCain [Images] now leads Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama [Images] by two points in a surprising turn around, according to CNN's exit polls.

                     Obama draws first blood

Whether or not the famed Bradley effect, named after the 1982 election in which the popular black Mayor of Los AngelesTom Bradley ran for Governor of California and despite leading in all polls was defeated, is responsible for the turnaround in a state with a distinct racial bent is unknown.

What is clear though is that the local population is sharply divided by economic and cultural battles aligned on demographic and generational fronts. In contrast, however, the South Asian community here demonstrates considerable unity over their affirmation for the Democratic presidential nominee.

The freedom to express one's faith in a particular candidate is however not always easy particularly, in the mid-western parts of the state where outsiders are looked upon with suspicion by the locals.

Amar Bhattacharya, a retired professor of Ohio Northern University, reflects that for years he was registered a Republican voter simply because he lived in the suburban stronghold of conservative republicans.

"That kind of a situation becomes mandatory, otherwise you see an instant chilling of relationships with people around you. Also, you would think African Americans would be friends of Asian Indians because of similar skin color, but quite often there is a general sense of discomfort among them that Indians are taking away their share of jobs and so on. These feelings remain subterranean, but strongly influence the way people vote in different communities," he said.

Bhattacharya informs that these biases may not be played out in these elections because Senator Obama displays an unmatched intellectual prowess and an affinity with people that have drawn large crowds of young Asian Indians to his rallies.  

Satish Parikh, an electrical engineer and current board member of NFIA, observes that the typically Indian nature of pursuing a non-violent philosophy of kindness and tolerance finds its resonance in Senator Obama's tempered foreign policies.

"We are growing increasingly afraid of the pro-war, aggressive attitudes held by the Republican Party. In terms of the economy too there is complete disillusionment, with many of us losing money in mutual funds, stocks and investments. Several of the second generation Indians employed in leading banks have been hit by the financial meltdown and are restlessly looking towards a different direction. In the meantime with unemployment looming large, no matter what McCain claims to be, he still looks like the inside Washington guy," he noted. 

For Krishan Aggarwal, current chairman of the Association of American Physicians of Indian Origin's (AAPI) Charitable Foundation, these are historic times, with somebody other than a white running for the highest office in the country.

"If Senator Obama is elected, it will send an overwhelming message to the minority community, including the Indian Americans, that they too can participate in the process of government and continue the good work of a democracy as found in India where color, race or religion are no barriers," he said.

Meanwhile, the 'socialist' tag added to Senator Obama's campaign by the Republicans has had its desired effect on the business community. Ratanjit S Sondhe, an industrialist with interests in media outlets, points out that a significant number of business groups are deeply concerned about the Senator Obama's tax reforms.

"A growing business needs all the support from the government and frankly, that tax exemption of $ 250,000 and under, is of little value to businesses that are expanding," Sondhe said. He believes that presidency is all about character and according to him, Senator McCain defines it in the best way possible as an all-American war hero.

The voices are divided, but one thing seems clear from a feet on the ground survey of the community: in the Buckeye State, these elections have become emotionally fraught, with voters believing there is something intensely personal at stake here.

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