NEW YORK, JANUARY 20, 2003
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 have been elected to eminent
positions in New Jersey: Roger Chugh was appointed as Assistant
Secretary of State in the Cabinet and Singh, the Public Advocate
Chughs 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 Advocates position,
which was 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.
The appointments mark the growing influence of the South Asian
community in a state that is fast overtaking New York as Americas
salad bowl. Last year, three Indian Americans had won elections
in New Jersey: while Upendra Chivukula became the third Indian
American state legislator, George James and Parag Patel won Town
Board elections. Governor McGreevey said about Chughs appointment
that 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 seventies.
He counts Congress Party leaders Lalit Maken, Priyaranjan Das
Munshi and Ambika Soni as 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, and 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!
Chughs 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 Gores presidential bid and more recently,
steered a signature campaign involving 94 Congressman, 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.
Roger Rajesh Chugh has found himself back in cyberspace, and
he's not happy about it.
Chugh, the No. 3 official in New Jersey's Department of State,
shut down his personal Web site in March after it became an embarrassment
for Gov. James E. McGreevey, who appointed him. The site had exaggerated
Chugh's stature in state government and included personal-ad-style
descriptions of his appearance and his fondness for Broadway shows
and candlelit dinners.
Now the Web site is back, under new ownership -- and what looks
at first glance like self-promotion is actually a mocking reminder
of the flap. It has photos of Chugh and glowing words about him
("Read Roger Chugh's inspirational biography!"), but
also includes news articles and commentary critical of him.
"Somebody's playing dirty," Chugh said.
The McGreevey administration is trying to figure out if there's
any way to make it go away. The Governor's office has asked the
attorney general's staff to review the matter.
The new proprietor of the site is Anthony Olszewski, who ran
the Web pages for Republican Bret Schundler's campaign for governor
last year. Olszewski picked up the rights to the Internet address
(www.rogerchugh.com) for $15 a year after Chugh let it lapse.
"Everything is legal. I have no plans to take it down,"
said Olszewski, a registered Republican from Jersey City. He said
he has never met Chugh, and Chugh said he does not know Olszewski.
Schundler and the state Republican Party said they have nothing
to do with the site.
"Nobody suggested I produce the site; nobody paid me,"
said Olszewski. And he asked sarcastically why the Democratic
administration is unhappy about it.
"Is there something wrong with me pointing out he (Chugh)
still works for the state?" said the Web operator. "If
they're ashamed of that, I don't blame them. But I don't see how
it's illegal for me to point that out."
Kevin Davitt, a spokesman for McGreevey, suggested the site's
new operator may be violating the law by including a link to New
Jersey's official state Web site.
"Obviously it's disturbing -- possibly illegal," Davitt
said. "It's absolutely deceiving."
But cyber-law expert Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia
University in Manhattan, said there is almost no way for government
officials to control who links to their site, and it appears that
nothing was done inappropriately when Olszewski obtained the Chugh
"They probably have to suck it up and live with it,"
Olszewski runs a number of Web sites, including an unofficial
Jersey City site (www.getnj.com), and previously worked on Web
pages for Schundler's unsuccessful campaign against McGreevey.
Coincidentally, Schundler's former site (www.Bret2001.com) also
has been taken over by an outsider -- it's now being used as a
come-on for sexually explicit material.