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MUST READ: Record number of Indian-Americans seeking office

Meet Reshma, Surya, Manan, Raj, Ami, Ravi, Nimrata and Kamala -- a new wave of Indian-American politicians.

At least eight children of Indian immigrants are running for Congress or statewide office, the most ever. The star of this trend is Nikki Haley, born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa, who is favored to win the election for governor of South Carolina.

Indian heritage is where Haley's similarity with the other candidates seems to end. She is the only Republican, the only one who has been widely mistaken for a white woman, the only one who has been accused of abandoning her heritage for converting from the Sikh faith to Christianity.

Yet when Haley's motives are questioned and some suggest Indians must become less ''foreign'' to get elected, many of these new candidates are quick to ask: Who are we to judge the mashup of American ambition with an ancient culture?

Manan Trivedi, a doctor and Iraq war veteran who recently won a Democratic primary for Congress in eastern Pennsylvania, said he did not view his ethnicity as a handicap: ''The American electorate is smarter than that.''

He called criticism of Haley's name and religion unfounded. ''Nikki Haley and (Republican Louisiana Gov.) Bobby Jindal are on the wrong side, but they worked their butts off, they had the bonafides to get the votes, and I think it had so much more to do with their work ethic than the fact that they may have changed their names and adopted a different religion.''

Jindal was elected the nation's first Indian governor in 2007, at age 36. Named Piyush at birth, he told his Hindu parents when he was 4 that he wanted to be called Bobby, like the ''Brady Bunch'' boy. He converted to Catholicism as a teenager.

As Jindal's star rose, the meaning of his assimilation drew much scrutiny. Many people outside South Carolina only learned Haley is Indian after a fellow South Carolina lawmaker used a racial epithet to describe her.