External Affairs

Nikki Randhawa Haley, Daughter of Sikh Immigrant Parents, to be Trump’s Ambassador to UN

The decision will provide a much needed signal of diversity at a time when racist attacks have spurted in the US.

File photo of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

File photo of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

New York: President-elect Donald Trump sought to send a positive signal to critics on Wednesday by picking Republican South Carolina governor Nikki Randhawa Haley – a second generation Indian-American who had initially opposed his presidential bid – to be the next United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley, 44, is seen as a reassuring pick as she would bring badly needed diversity to Trump’s cabinet at a critical point. There has been a marked increase in the incidence of hate speech and crimes after Trump’s shock victory and the divisive election campaign which preceded it.

“The move… comes as Trump advisers are seeking to diversify his ranks and marks his first female appointment to a cabinet-level post,” reported The Washington Post.

“Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

Accepting the offer, Haley said: “When the president believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed,”

Wednesday’s announcement is being seen as a push back against the sort of crass racism that has popped out of the woodwork after Trump’s victory. It sends a positive signal to other countries and America’s allies.

“Haley, who is the the daughter of Indian immigrants, has already carved out a legacy for herself, serving as her home state’s first female and first minority governor,” noted CNN.

Once considered as a potential vice-presidential nominee, Haley had met Trump in Trump Towers in New York on November 17, fuelling speculation that she could be his pick for a cabinet position.  Predictably, this spawned vicious racist insults. Ann Coulter, an acerbic conservative commentator and author of Adios, America: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole, took to Twitter to hurl racist insults at Haley when she saw media reports suggesting Haley was in the running for secretary of state.

“If Trump wants an Indian Sec of State, how about Tonto?” Coulter tweeted to her over one million followers. Tonto is a fictional character, an ugly caricature of a grammar-challenged Native American, who was the loyal sidekick to the Texas Ranger who fought outlaws in the American Old West.

Coulter earlier told Fox News that Haley was a “bimbo” and Trump should deport Haley while vetting immigrants. “She is a woman who was accidentally elected because she’s pretty and isn’t very bright,” Coulter said during a Fox News radio show where a shocked host John Gibson called out Coulter’s racist and sexist comments.

On the other hand, Republican representative Mark Sanford had come out in vocal support of Haley, whom he described as a “very capable governor.” The general consensus is that Haley can reach out to a broader world audience with her diverse background, experience and strong negotiating skills.

“I don’t think the cabinet needs to look like a Benetton commercial, but I think that having folks of different ethnic backgrounds matters, particularly in that role, given we’re 5% of the world’s population and most of the world doesn’t look like us,” Sanford told MSNBC. “She’s of Indian descent. I think that that would really matter.”

Haley created history as the first female and Indian-American governor of South Carolina. During this election cycle, she was critical of Trump and endorsed his former presidential rival, Florida senator Marco Rubio. In October, she became a late endorser of Trump saying she would vote for him even though she was “not a fan.” “This is no longer a choice for me on personalities because I’m not a fan of either one,” she said at a news conference while referring to Trump and Hillary Clinton.

“What it is about is policy,” Haley said. “So when I look at all of those, I come back to say that the best person based on the policies, and dealing with things like Obamacare, still is Donald Trump.”

A star in the Republican Party, Haley who is in her second and final term as governor of South Carolina, was elected in 2010 as the youngest governor in the US.

In her evocative memoir, Can’t Is Not an Option, Haley has written about having to tough it out while growing up Indian in a small conservative white town in South Carolina.

“We were the first Indian family ever to live in Bamberg, in a time and place that only knew black and white, and we didn’t fit either category. We weren’t dark enough to be black or pale enough to be white, we were brown. That difference, our difference was an inescapable fact,” Haley, 40, writes in her 245-page autobiography. “We coped the only way we know how, we went into survival mode. We clung to one another tightly. We worked hard. We were respectful to our neighbuors. We tried to fit in.”

It speaks volumes for the Indian American super-achiever that her small, conservative, monochromatic town has come round since her childhood in the 1970s and now boasts a billboard that proclaims “Proud Home of Nikki Haley.”

A daughter of Sikh parents who emigrated from India and built a successful clothing company, the male members of Haley’s family wear turbans while her mother Raj Randhawa often wears saris.

Haley’s mother comes across as quite a remarkable person in her book. She started a business in their home and, through frugality, will and creativity, built it into a multi-million-dollar clothing enterprise. Haley worked for her mother at one stage.

Haley acknowledged her Indian roots while taking her oath of office. Unlike Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, Haley has gone out of her way to have strong ties with India. Soon after she was elected, Haley invited India’s then ambassador to Washington Nirupama Rao on a three-day visit to Charleston to sit down with members of the State Ports Authority to discuss the potential of doing business with Indian companies. Air India also got the first of four Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft from Haley’s state.

“The fact that she (Haley) is the daughter of Indian immigrants and she has been proud to talk about it and celebrate it has endeared her very much to us in India,” Rao had commented during her three-day visit to Charleston. In 2014, Haley won re-election with the largest number of votes for a South Carolina gubernatorial candidate in over two decades.