Well-known Indian American Nikki Haley, South Carolina Governor, who has been chosen by US President-elect Donald Trump to be the US ambassador to the United Nations, is the first non-white female Cabinet-level official appointed in the Trump administration.
Born Nimrata Nikki Randhwa in South Carolina, Haley is the state’s first female and minority leader and has been governor for five years.
The daughter of Sikh immigrants from Amritsar (India), Haley had been critical of Trump’s several stances during the 2016 campaign, which included a proposed temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
Haley, 44, has been touted as a rising star within the Republican Party as she is the youngest governor in the US and only the second Indian-American to serve at the helm of a US state after Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana. Last week, she was elected as the Vice-Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association.
Haley has worked on trade and labour issues as governor but has little diplomatic experience. The Indian American Governor earlier took a public stand against resettling Syrian refugees in South Carolina and urged the State Department to ensure additional security checks were in place before refugees entered the country. She also opposed President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.
She initially supported Senator Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, and then backed Senator Ted Cruz. The governor also criticised Trump and asked him to release his taxes and slammed his harsh campaign rhetoric throughout the primary election.
In January she was praised by the Republican Party for her rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he had criticised Trump. “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference,” Haley had said in the State of the Union rebuttal. “That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.”
Haley was elected South Carolina’s Governor in 2010, riding the wave of the Republican Tea Party with the backing of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Prior to becoming the state’s chief executive, she served six years as a member of the state’s House of Representatives.
Haley converted to Christianity when she married Army National Guard Captain Michael Haley. She has two children with him.
She garnered praise in 2015 for her handling of the Charleston church shooting, when she asked the state legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol following the racially-charged church massacre. In that incident, nine persons were killed.
The choice comes as President-elect Trump seeks to diversify his lineup of top choices. The GOP administration is likely banking on Haley’s strong communication and problem-solving skills, required for the US representative at the United Nations in New York.
Haley was born on January 20, 1972 in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. She attended local schools and graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. Haley went on to work for her mother’s upscale clothing business, Exotica International, helping to make it a multimillion-dollar company, according to her biography.
In 1998, Haley was named to the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, and in 2003, to that of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. She became president of the National Association of Women Business Owners in 2004 and immersed herself in a number of organizations, including the Lexington Medical Foundation, West Metro Republican Women, and the South Carolina Chapter of NAWBO.
Haley converted to Christianity and sits on the board of the Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church. Out of respect for her parents’ culture, she still attends Sikh services.