In Queens Neighborhood, a Dispute Divides Business Owners and Leaves a Festival Dark

Sam Dolnick, New York Times, December 6, 2010

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, was dark this year in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The owners of the jewelry shops, grocery stores and sari boutiques who usually string multicolored bulbs along 74th Street for the fall celebration {snip} are battling for control of the local merchants’ association, in a dispute that has cleaved the business community in two with accusations of election fraud, ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation. The cast includes a father feuding with his son-in-law, two rival grocery stores and at least one private detective. {snip}

{snip} The merchants’ group, made up mostly of South Asian business owners, is a nonprofit enterprise devoted largely to mundane matters like street parking, garbage pickup, arrangements for Diwali and for a springtime religious festival, the highlights of the year.

But to those involved, the association is a source of prestige, a vehicle to gain respect in the neighborhood, to host mayors and senators for ghee-soaked lunches, and to play a role, however minor, in the swirling jumble of New York politics.

{snip}

“In India, to be a politician, you have to be a bully,” [Mahipal Singh, a lawyer involved in the dispute] said. {snip}

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