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Portrait

Nikki Haley: Less Trump

Nikki Haley
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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She was the highest ranking official of Indian origin in the Trump administration. Why did she resign?

THE INDIAN COMMUNITY in the US has traditionally been full of Republicans, while in India preferences often swing towards the Democrats (just compare how Indians viewed George Bush and Barack Obama). Much of the NRI affinity for Republicans can be attributed to economics. They are successful professionally, more than the American average, and the Republican party is the one that cuts taxes and supports business.

It is too early to say how this affinity has changed in the age of Donald Trump and his unleashing the White-male backlash against migrants. Work-visa regulations have been tightened, which affects Indians, and the general insecurity of a return to racism has unsettled the community. Nikki Haley meanwhile remained the reassuring Indian-American presence in the inner circle around Trump. This week, however, she announced that she would soon leave as the US ambassador to the United Nations.

It was perhaps long overdue, given the nature of Trump’s work equations with team members. Haley, however, managed it better than most and even her exit was much more amiable than what the experience of others has been. During their joint meeting with the media to make the announcement, Haley, in a clear bid to please Trump, heaped effusive praise on his son-in-law Jared Kushner for his foreign policy expertise, though conventional wisdom has him as someone naïvely dabbling in things he doesn’t understand (and the only reason he does is because he can). “I can’t say enough good things about Jared and Ivanka,” Haley said, “Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands. To redo the NAFTA deal the way he did. What I’ve done working with him on the Middle East peace plan... it is so unbelievably well done.”

The description is being mocked online but indicates that Haley has one of the strongest attributes for a politician: to do what it takes to survive and thrive in changing environments. Before Trump’s election, she had commented against some of his more controversial stands, like a ban on Muslims entering the US. However, once she became part of the administration, her loyalty was complete.

Born to Indian Sikh parents who migrated to the US in 1969, her road in politics has been straightforward. She first got elected to the House of Representatives before becoming Governor of the state of South Carolina. Her name was in the reckoning as a possible vice-presidential running mate when Mitt Romney ran against Barack Obama in 2012 but she ruled it out. In the next election, she, like almost the entire Republican Party leadership that failed to see Trump’s popularity, backed the wrong candidates. But then got herself back in favour with him.

He resignation was unexpected. There is speculation that it might be a long-term move to prepare for a presidential run. Some suggest she could challenge Trump for the nomination, while she herself has denied it. One poll said that she could be the party’s strongest contender. The magazine Politico reported, ‘The survey, which polled likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa as well as Republican primary voters in New Hampshire, found that nearly half—47 percent—would consider another option to Trump in 2020. Of those polled, Haley topped the list among the probable early state voters, with 52 per cent saying they would consider her as an alternative to Trump. The US ambassador to the United Nations, who announced on Tuesday that she is resigning her position at the end of the year, also had the smallest percentage of respondents — 25 per cent — say they would not consider her at all.’ If she does run for president, it would be a milestone for Indian Americans, a once-fringe community that’s now in the mainstream of that country’s politics.