Ms Haley has been United States Ambassador to the United Nations since 2017 and was previously, the Republican Governor of South Carolina. She is in India right now on a goodwill mission at a time when “good-will” is not quite the flavour of the month between the US and India. Of course, a less than cordial relationship was par for the course, till the United Progressive Alliance under Dr Manmohan Singh made strenuous efforts to align closer with the nation, which has been an Eldorado for millions of Indians.The BJP under Prime Minister Modi has added energy and substance to that initiative.
Ms Haley represents all that is virtuous in America. A child of immigrant, Sikh, professionally qualified parents, she did not wander into politics. It was a choice dictated by her will and courage to lead and be the best – a common American virtue, sometimes carried to a fault.
At the age of 32 she ran for and was elected to the South California, House of Representative and won a re-election in 2008. Her bid to run for Governor subsequently was endorsed by Republican heavyweights – Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin. South Carolina sensibly elected her Governor in 2010. In 2012 she was speculated to be one of the options for Vice President partnering Mitt Romney for his Presidential bid versus Barack Obama. She determinedly squashed all speculation declaring that she “had a job to do which she would like to finish”. Wise move that one.
But it hasn’t been easy. Indian immigrants rising to the top in politics is new in America. After fellow Republican, Bobby Jindal, Ms Haley is the second Indian origin American to become Governor. The hope is that she could well be the first Indian origin President of the United States. She has the moves. She has the articulation and she has the nerves to make a great President.
In 2015 as Governor, South Carolina, she had the guts to advocate that the Confederate flag which was traditionally used as a State symbol should be respectfully retired saying – whilst an integral part of the past, it longer represented the future. This was in response to a hate crime in her State inside a Church, by a white man who killed nine people because he was trying to shoot black people and ignite a race war. South Carolina is in the deep-south where slave labour to work the plantations was a way of life before it was abolished in 1865 vide the 13th Amendment to the constitution. Of course it would be another 100 years before apartheid would be similarly ended in the US.
Ms Haley was born a Sikh but became a Christian and no, she does not speak or understand Punjabi. Theirs was the only Sikh family in the town where she grew up. As a brown skinned, Indian child it could not have been easy growing up in the Deep South through the 1970s.
The advice her parents gave was to focus on and develop the similarities with other kids, whilst retaining the differences within her. America is an avowedly secular nation where Presidents still take the oath over a bible. The heart of America is Christian, even if its head is secular. Little Nikki was clearly aiming for the heart when she switched her faith.
Is this a flaw in character then in the otherwise smooth, well rounded, balanced exterior? Only the most fundamentalist Sikh would take that narrow view. The key to deep religious feelings lies in surrendering to God, not in the highway chosen to reach Her.
But Ms Haley seems prone to sabotage. When she declared on national television in April, 2017 that sanctions on Russia were around the corner as punishment for supporting the Bashir Assad regime in Syria, she was publicly embarrassed to have the White House not support her claiming that she was probably mistakenly “ahead of the curve” and no decision had yet been taken. Not one to take a public put-down quietly, Ms Haley shot back on television that she was not the one who was confused. But this seems to be recurrent theme.
The news that the US has unilaterally postponed the 2+2 talks with India scheduled for early July this year, broke yesterday in the middle of Ms Haley’s India mission – not the most appropriate timing, if creating a conducive environment for her India visit was the objective. This begs the question if she is really one of the “big boys” of the Trump administration. Can she punch, kick and stab at the national level as well as she did in South Carolina?
America has a rich tradition of Governors going on to become President. In India this is new – Narendra Modi being the first Chief Minister to fight and win an election with him at the helm. Religion is high on everybody’s mind in India and blood is easily shed in the name of religion. Ms Haley is a powerful symbol of what can be achieved, if religion becomes a purely personal constraint and not the guiding principle for public policy.