WASHINGTON: A daughter of Sikh immigrants to the United States has become President-elect Donald Trump’s first female cabinet-level nominee. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, born Nimrata Randhawa, will be the Trump administration pick for ambassador to the United Nations, his transition team announced Wednesday morning.“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 himself said in a statement announcing his choice for the crucial post. ”She is also a proven dealmaker, and we look to be making plenty of deals. She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”
On her part, Haley, 44, accepted the nomination and said she was “honored for the chance to serve the country as U.N. ambassador. She has to be confirmed by the Senate.
Like many things with Trump, there was ring of mendacity and posturing around the development. Trump had mocked Haley during the Presidential campaign because she had not supported him+ (she backed Marco Rubio, another Republican aspirant), at one point tweeting, “The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!”+ That came after Haley had called on Americans not to ”follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” in an oblique reference to the Trump campaign style.
But Trump’s bench strength is so weak that he is having to reach out even to his adversaries, with both sides making a virtue of patching up after having called each other names. Haley was originally sounded out for Secretary of State+ , but she is a relative novice even for the U.N job (which requires considerable skills given the U.S is a pivotal figure at the UN) with little experience in foreign affairs beyond a few foreign engagements as the governor of South Carolina.
Trump meanwhile is tapping another even more hardline critic, Mitt Romney, for the Secretary of State, despite the latter having calling him a fraud and a phony. Romney too is a former governor, but at least he led Massachusetts (a state more engaged with the rest of the world than South Carolina), besides having honed his foreign affairs nous when he ran for President against Barack Obama in 2012 (and lost).
But while Haley’s foreign policy resume is thin, pitching her into the UN as the U.S envoy serves Trump the purpose of appointing a woman and a minority to a position that will be high-profile on the international stage, but will be relatively insignificant from the domestic stand point. It will also serve the purpose of elevating Trump loyalist Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster to the Governor’s post.
The politics of the Trump appointment aside, becoming the first Indian-American cabinet level appointee is tremendous story for a first generation immigrant family of Sikh faith.
The story goes that when when Ajit Randhawa’s daughters Simmi and Nikki entered the Little Miss Bamberg school pageant in the small South Carolina town in the 1970s, the community was confused. They elected only a white queen and a black queen, and the Randhawa kids, immigrant children from Punjab, were neither.
Undeterred, five year old Nikki, short for Nimrata, belted out the Woody Guthrie epic “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to New York Island,” the ultimate folksy tribute to Americana, before stomping off.
Nikki would eventually go on to marry Michael Haley in both a Methodist church and a Sikh gurdwara ceremony, later identifying herself as a Christian. The couple has two children, Rena and Nalin. Haley’s brother Mitti was an active duty officer who served in the US Army for 20 years, and her husband too has served in Afghanistan.