Indian-American Political Star Rises in NJ

Raj Mukherji (center), recently elected for the New Jersey State Assembly, poses with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (left) and Oprah Winfrey. (Photo via the News India Times)

Raj Mukherji (center), recently elected to the New Jersey State Assembly, poses with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (left) and Oprah Winfrey. (Photo via the News India Times)

A rising star in New Jersey politics emerged from last week’s election: Raj Mukherji, 29, became the second Indian American elected to the New Jersey State Assembly, joining six-term Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who was handily reelected, the News India Times reports.

A story by Ela Dutt entitled “29-year-old Raj Mukherji Goes to Trenton” profiles the young Democrat, currently Deputy Mayor of Jersey City, who will represent District 33.

He says he is lucky to be representing the most ethnically diverse district where 50 percent of the population is Latino and 11 percent is Asian. He also points to Jersey City’s 25 percent Asian population of which Indians are the largest contingent. “So I am fortunate to have had South Asian community support,” he said. He counts Assemblyman Chivukula as his friend and mentor. “And I hope there will be a 3rd, 4th, and 5th Indian-American elected to the legislature in the near future.”

Mukherji speaks fluent Bengali and Spanish, says his mother Anju Mukherji. She accompanied him for some of his neighborhood campaigns and was astonished when he addressed a largely Latino crowd in Spanish. “I saw how much trust they have in him and how much people love him,” said the proud mother. “It was fantastic going with him. But it was so much walking involved – I stopped. He is so energetic,” Anju Mukherji, 65, told News India Times.

A separate story also by Ela Dutt entitled “New Jersey Assemblyman Re-elected for 7th Term” covers Mukherji’s mentor reelection.

Six-term New Jersey State Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (l.) (Photo via the News India Times.)

Six-term New Jersey State Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (right). (Photo via News India Times)

Six-term New Jersey State Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, the doyen of Indian-American politics in this country, says being affable, accessible, and able are the 3 most-wanted qualities in a candidate. Apparently he has them all because he was re-elected November 5 from District 17, in a show of support from constituents who have watched him for 12 years now.

In my hometown of Franklin (Township) I got the highest vote of all, even more than the Governor (Christie),” Chivukula said happily in an interview with News India Times. “It just makes you feel you are someone they value.” Chivukula, a Democrat, secured 32 percent of the vote as did Assemblyman Joseph Egan, the top 2 vote-getters in District 17; Republican Sanjay Patel lost with 17 percent of the vote.

According to the article, other Indian-American winners in the Garden State include Hoboken City Councilman-at-Large Ravinder Bhalla, who was re-elected.

However, not everything was good news for the state’s Indian-American community. A story by Ashok Ojha in The South Asian Times focuses on the loss of two high-profile mayoral races.

Both Indian-American mayoral candidates in the New Jersey townships of West Windsor and Edison faced defeats in the election of Nov. 5, which reflected a fragmented community divided on the lines of business interests and political affiliations.

In Edison Township, the two-term Council member, Dr. Sudhanshu Prasad (D), could garner only 14 percent votes in a town which boasts 37 percent population of Asian Americans, a majority being of Indian origin. The incumbent Toni Ricigliano too could receive only 27 percent [of the] votes, losing to the official Democratic candidate Thomas Lankey. However, Sapna Shah, an attorney of Indian origin, who contested as a Lankey’s teammember, was victorious.  (…)

In the town of West-Windsor-Plainsboro, mayoral candidate Dr. Hemant Marathe, a Republican, ended up at third position with only 2,778 votes while the incumbent Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh won with 3,257 votes. Indian-American politician, Kamal Khanna, who contested for a seat in the township council, also lost.

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