Indian American community welcomes Nikki Haley’s presidential bid, but skeptical of victory

Ritu Jha-

The Indian American community welcomed Republican Nimrata Nikki Haley’s decision to run for US President in 2024 but was not confident she’d succeed against former President Donald Trump.

One of her earliest supporters, Shalabh Kumar, wasn’t surprised she would be running for US President. He told indica she had her eye on the presidency since 2010.

“She calls me Chacha-ji (‘Uncle’, with an honorific) in Hindi. Good if she wins. The UK has Rishi Sunak and the US may have Nimrata,” said Kumar, a staunch Trump supporter and the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition.

“She is a good speaker and an impressive orator. When she gives a speech it’s pretty good. Even though I am committed to Trump 24/7, but I tell you, she is a better orator than Trump,” Kumar told indica.

Kumar said he first met Haley when her father Ajit Singh Randhawa called him in the summer of 2010 and asked if he can support Nimrata (Nikki), then running for governor of South Carolina.

“We are both from the same town, Amritsar in Punjab, India,” Kumar said. “In fact, I remember I got a call from Nimrata while I was in Tennessee and we had a chat for 15 minutes. I think in that election cycle I was her biggest financial supporter.”

Recalling the fund-raiser he hosted, Kumar said that it was the first big event in Chicago in 2010, and the most memorable thing was her campaign manager’s reaction.

“When he (campaign manager) saw me after the political campaign we all (Haley, her father and me) did the bhangra dance on stage. The campaign manager said this event is so different than we had earlier… and that she (Haley) seems like she is among her people.”

Kumar said Haley’s Indian American supporters feel she is a true conservative, believes in small business, and that she treats taxpayers’ money as sacred. “She believes that every dollar you collect from the taxpayer is sacred and has to be spent wisely… more important than your own money.”

He added, “Policy-wise, she is good and, at some point, of time she will be the president of the United States.”

Sampat Shivangi MD, Member National Advisory Council SAMHSA, Center for National Mental Health Services, Washington DC, said, “Governor Nikki Haley, who has served in multiple roles in the US and on the world stage as US Ambassador to United Nations, makes all of us proud, specifically Indian Americans who have given a unique identity as part of diaspora.”

He added, “A rare quality of Governor Haley is that she has not forgotten her roots and her ancestral homeland India as she visited India and interacted with leadership in India, including meeting Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi.”

By all accounts, Haley is a popular leader not only in her home state South Carolina, but across the US. It will be interesting to see how she squares up against her former boss Trump in the GOP primaries.

“I learn President Trump has welcomed her candidacy for the highest office of the land, possibly a place on the world stage,” Shivangi told indica, who has known Haley personally for decades.

He said, “On behalf of the large and influential Indian American community, I wish her well and all the success in the coming days and pray she will succeed to be a nominee of the GOP in 2024. We will assure our community’s support in every way.”

Will it be a challenge for Haley to get the GOP endorsement? Shivangi feels Haley is a fighter, and is not likely to give up easily even her opponents are likely to be more formidable. “She is a very articulate individual,” Shivangi said. “She became governor in a Southern state and was Ambassador at the UN, a great achievement for an Indian-descent person.”

But New Jersey based Hemant Bhatt, founder and chairman of Asian American Republic Coalition (AARC) who first met Haley in 2016 during Trump’s presidential ball in Washington DC, told indica the organization will not support the candidate based on Indian descent, but a person running for the office of the ‘President’ who has national and international experience and appeal.

Bhatt said Haley was not strong in international experience even though she was UN Ambassador for some time.

“As an organization, AARC will support whoever wins the primary. But President Trump has national and international appeal,” Bhatt said. “In the last election, many Indian Americans voted for Trump and he was supposed to win. Right now in the whole of the US, only one person is capable.”

He added, “Had Trump been President, the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia could have been averted,” he said. “We will help financially,” Bhatt added. “Haley is open minded and that is fine, but as far as presidential candidature goes, she has to work very hard. She might qualify for 2028.”

Washington DC-based Shekhar Tiwari told indica over the phone that he welcomes Haley’s 2024 bid. “She is confident and she deserves to be the President,” he said. “She is Indian American and married to a Catholic, that would help but right now the situation in the country is different… and she has to face Trump… the debate. She has to stay loyal to the GOP. It’s a long journey. But what we like is she is always proud to be Indian American and we will support her financially, she is one of our own.”

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