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South Asians divided on election results

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"Change is always good," said Shiv Dass, the owner of Krishna Jewelers in Jackson Heights, who said India had a long tradition of secularism, making the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's Hindu nationalist government an anomaly. "I think the future will be much better now."

But a man shopping in Floral Park took a decidedly dimmer view.

"Congress is always doing gimmicks, such as handing out food," said the man who would not give his name. He arrived in the United States five years ago from Arunchal Pradesh. "They'll make the poor poorer."

Riding on a wave of rural discontent with the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress Party, led by Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, captured 217 Parliament seats during the three-week voting session that ended last week.

Backed by a coalition of smaller left-leaning parties, the Congress Party, which governed India from its independence in 1947 until 1998, earned enough seats to oust former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Gandhi is the daughter-in-law of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who served from 1964 to 1984, when she was assassinated by her bodyguards, and the wife of Indira's son, Rajiv Gandhi, who served as prime minister between 1984 and 1989. He, too, was assassinated two years after leaving office.

Sonia Gandhi declined the prime minister position Tuesday and threw her weight behind Manmohan Singh, a Sikh.

Harpreet Toor, the president of the New York-based Sikh Cultural Society in Richmond Hill, issued a statement comparing Singh's potential appointment to the election of a black president in the United States.

"Sikhs are a minority in India and suffer from all forms of discrimination associated with minority groups," Toor said. "This would be a major step forward for Sikhs both in India and throughout the world."

Sonia Gandhi's foreign birth had made her the target of Bharatiya Janata Party criticism, a sentiment that was echoed by some Indians in Queens.

"I don't want any foreigner to become minister. No one wants that," said former Delhi native Vinod Monga, who was shopping in Floral Park. "It will not be in the good interest of India."

Meanwhile, concerns over the economic stability of the nation, which has seen its stock market plummet since the election, persist.

Vajpayee had campaigned on a platform titled "India Shining," a nod to nation's impressive 8-percent economic growth rate and burgeoning urban middle class.

His economic policies of divestiture of state-owned industries and deregulation are largely credited with pushing India's economic boom.

In fact, said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), who is co-chairman of the Congressional Caucus on India, the Congress Party was really the organization to initiate the economic changes.

"I am sure that the Congress Party will continue the strong economic growth that India has experienced under the leadership of the BJP," Crowley said.

While growth was evident in urban areas, Vajpayee, who called for elections six months early expecting positive results, neglected India's rural poor, said Dass, who came to the United States from Punjab 40 years ago. "That's why he lost," he said.

Despite economic uncertainty, most people believe that the peace process initiated between Pakistan and India under Vajpayee's administration will proceed.

"People are tired of all this fighting and bickering," said Dass. "Any government that comes in India will try to have peace because the people want peace."

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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