For Chicago-based Indian-American businessman Shalabh 'Shalli' Kumar, the founder of Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) which supported US President-Elect Donald Trump, the first election campaign of South Carolina governor Nikki Haley was an opportunity to move back into public life and politics after 1986. "Her father Ajit Singh Randhawa approached me in the summer of 2010 to support his daughter's campaign to run for governor of South Carolina," recalls Kumar.
Kumar evaluated Haley as a successful businesswoman who upheld the conservative values of the Republican Party. He became the largest donor for her campaign. South Carolina does not have much of an Indian-American population, but Kumar supported her in organising campaign meetings across America. Besides providing financial support for her campaign, he was able to rope in other Republican supporters and donors as well. Today, Kumar is proud about her high-profile appointment in the Trump administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
"There were many high-profile contenders for the UN ambassador's position but it is significant that Trump chose Haley, despite her having spoken against him in the past," Kumar told ET. Haley's appointment, he feels, has raised the profile of Indian Americans in a big way. She would be a great ambassador in the UN not just for America but would also be a good friend of India in taking forward India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN security council, he says. Haley has also spoken out in the past against Pakistan on state-sponsored terror and has a clear perspective on Indo-Pakistan relations, being of Punjabi origin and having grown up in a Sikh family. All this, according to Kumar, will be of advantage to India.
The bipartisan United States India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) had started an online petition to oust Ann Coulter from FOX News after she made derogatory remarks against Haley, when Haley was being considered for a top position in his administration by Trump. Now USINPAC will be working with her on issues important to the community. "We have had a long-term relationship with Governor Haley right from when she was a member of the state senate in South Carolina and later when she ran for governor and during her two terms," says Sanjay Puri, the chairman of USINPAC.
Puri believes Haley, who has been very successful in attracting businesses to South Carolina and as a leader in the Republican Governors Association, would now have the opportunity to hone her foreign policy skills through her new appointment. "She has already shown us that you can be an Indian American in the Deep South and still rise through hard work," he says.
Avinash Iragavarapu, the executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, who managed data and analytics for Trump's election campaign, points out that Haley's appointment proves that Trump as a president is ready to work with the best talent available including those like Haley, who had opposed Trump in the past. "She was not a supporter of Trump. However, he didn't let that come in the way of appointing her. This is also a good indication of what would be the Trump presidency — working with and for all Americans, identifying and rewarding talent, equal opportunity for everyone without considering gender, ethnicity or even political affiliations," Iragavarapu says.
A.D. Amar, a New Jersey-based professor and founder of a group called Indian Americans for Trump, thinks that with Haley as the first Indian-American of Cabinet rank in the US, the community has now become much more high-profile.