Nikki Haley faces racist attack on her Indian roots

A Democratic Party leader in South Carolina targets Nikki Haley on her Indian origins, and faces a firestorm of protest over his racist outburst.

Uttara Choudhury May 07, 2013 06:53:37 IST

New York: Little can mask the fact that South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian is an impertinent racist. He struck at the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner late last week, shortly before a speech by Vice-President Joe Biden, telling party activists to “send Nikki Haley”— South Carolina’s Indian-American governor — “back to wherever the hell she came from.”

Harpootlian introduced 2014 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Vincent Sheehen with the remark disparaging Haley’s Indian roots.

“In about 18 months from now, hopefully he’ll (Vincent Sheehen) have sent Nikki Haley back to wherever the hell she came from,” Harpootlian said as the crowd reportedly broke into cheers and applause.

Somehow, one gets the distinct sense that the Democrat leader was not referring to the town of Bamberg in South Carolina, where Haley was born in 1972 to a Sikh couple who had emigrated to the US from India. Rather, it appears he was casting aspersions on Haley’s Indian heritage.

This isn't the first time that Nikki Haley has faced racial bigotry. Reuters

Republican criticism of the barb was swift. National Republican Senatorial Committee strategist Brad Dayspring tweeted, “Imagine if a top Republican told a minority Dem woman Guv to ‘go back to wherever the hell she came from.’”

This is not the first time the Democrat leader has had a nasty go at Haley. In September 2012, Harpootlian compared Haley to Adolf Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun, saying the governor “was down in the bunker a la Eva Braun” in reference to her conducting an interview in a basement.

Harpootlian never apologised for the Eva Braun remark. But under intense media scrutiny for Friday’s remark, Harpootlian quickly sketched out a non-apology. He tried to deflect his crude racist remark by saying he doesn’t mean to help Sheehen send Haley back to India, but rather back to her South Carolina hometown.

As explanations go, this has to be one of the weakest we’ve seen in a while. Harpootlian is a major campaign bundler who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for President Barack Obama. Obama has yet to condemn Harpootlian’s statement, but US media criticism has been swift and caustic.

“...Unless offenses like Harpootlian’s are slapped down hard, Democratic Party bigotry is likely to get worse. The reason is simple: the Republican Party is getting more diverse. Stung by its disastrous electoral showings among Americans who are neither white, Anglo, straight, nor male, the GOP has finally begun to broaden its candidate base,” noted The Daily Beast.

“The party now boasts an African-American senator from South Carolina, Cuban-American senators from Florida and Texas, Indian-American governors in South Carolina and Louisiana, and Mexican-American governors in Nevada and New Mexico. In all likelihood, 2016 will witness the first-ever serious minority candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination,” it added.

The two highest-profile Indian-American politicians are both Republicans: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and South Carolina Governor Nimrata 'Nikki Randhawa' Haley.

Unlike Jindal, Haley has gone out of her way to have strong ties with India. Soon after she was elected, Haley invited India’s ambassador to Washington Nirupama Rao on a three-day visit to Charleston to sit down with members of the State Ports Authority to discuss the potential of doing business with Indian companies. Air-India also got the first of four Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft from Haley’s South Carolina state.

“The fact that she (Haley) is the daughter of Indian immigrants and she has been proud to talk about it and celebrate it has endeared her very much to us in India,” said Rao.

Haley has talked candidly about growing up Indian in a small, conservative South Carolina town in her best-selling book Can’t Is Not an Option.

Updated Date: May 07, 2013 06:53:39 IST

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