New Delhi to New Jersey: Indians on fast track.

Two small steps in the wide world of American politics, two big steps for the Indian community. Two Indian Americans, Roger Chugh and Seema Singh, were chosen to eminent positions in New Jersey: Chugh was appointed as Assistant Secretary of State in the Cabinet and Singh, the Public Advocate last week.

Chugh’s appointment makes him the third most powerful official in New Jersey after Governor Jim McGreevey and Secretary of State Regina Thomas. Chugh, a Democrat who is also the chairperson of the Asian American Political Awareness group, will handle a $ 1.8 billion budget and have 2,000 people working under him.

Singh will handle the Public Advocate’s position, reinstated after a gap of eight years. It is a $57 million, 975-person public agency.

Their inspiration is diverse: Chugh 46, names Delhi Assembly Speaker Choudhary Prem Singh as his mentor, while Singh, 40, rewinds to her work in the leper colonies of the Burnpur-Durgapur belt in West Bengal, under the guidance of Mother Teresa.

Their appointments mark the growing influence of the South Asian community in a state that is fast overtaking New York as America’s “salad bowl.” Last year, three Indian Americans had won elections in New Jersey. Upendra Chivukula became the third Indian American state legislator, George James and Parag Patel won Town Board elections. Governor McGreevey said of Chugh’s appointment, ‘‘the voices of Asian Americans will be heard.”

Chugh, a graduate of Atma Ram Sanatan Dharam College in New Delhi, became the college union general secretary in the early 70s. He counts Congress Party leaders Lalit Maken, Priyaranjan Das Munshi and Ambika Soni among his friends and peers.

Chugh even contested for the post of president of the Delhi University. He lost those elections — obviously, his political stars were destined to shine some years later, in another country. ‘‘I have been interested in politics right from when I was in Harcourt Butler School,’’ said Chugh, who migrated to the US in the seventies. ‘‘I wanted to be the monitor of my class!’’

Chugh’s appointment seems to be a reward for the long years he has put in for the Democrats: he rallied the Indian community together for Al Gore’s presidential bid and more recently, steered a signature campaign involving 94 Congressmen, addressed to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asking him to desist from war with Pakistan.

‘‘I want to empower and unite all the Indians here. I want to see the Gujaratis and Punjabis mingle freely with the Bengalis and South Indians,’’ says Chugh.

Singh’s priorities, on the other hand, are somewhat different. Her aim is to see Hindus here strengthen their identity. ‘‘Hinduism is not about caste, curry and cow,’’ she says. Singh will strive to lobby for more funds and awareness so that Hinduism is taught in more colleges in the United States.

Born of Punjabi parents, Singh was raised in Asansol, West Bengal. ‘‘I never wanted to take up the sciences, but I did it to please my parents,’’ says Singh, speaking of her zoology degree from Calcutta University. Her sister Kiran, a teacher, brought her to New Jersey, and she later studied management and law.

She graduated from Rutgers University in 1988 with top honors, receiving the William A. Raimond award for the highest GPA at the School of Business and later attended law school at Seton Hall University. She was previously working with the Princeton-based law firm, Pepper Hamilton.

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