[UPDATE: See a fuller copy of Knott's remarks where she alleges Haley is a secret Sikh who is being elected by a cabal of Indian interests [link]]
One of the interesting differences between Jindal and Haley, two politicians with so much in common down to their Punjabi parents, is that Jindal makes his conversion central to his political identity whereas Haley does not.
1 One reason for this is color. Bobby Jindal is very clearly brown, he is married to a brown woman with a “foreign” name. He couldn’t hide his ancestry if he tried, so instead he emphasizes his conversion from the alien Hindu faith to the more familiar Catholic one.
Haley doesn’t have that burden, she’s a light skinned woman married to a white man, with a familiar sounding name. Heck, I got a number of emails last week from friends (desi and non-desi) all saying “Nicky Haley’s desi?” For her, talking about her conversion is not just unecessary, it would remind people of what’s alien about her and so it would be counter-productive.
I think this is why the attacks on her religion have been fairly tame in the past (in 2004 anonymous fliers claimed she was a Hindu but she still went on to beat the most senior member of the State House [link]) and present [link], they just have a hard time sticking, even though this is a state where anti-Catholic and anti-Mormon attacks have worked in the past [link].
2 The other reason why she doesn’t stress her conversion as much is that it doesn’t seem to have been as abrupt. Her campaign strongly stresses her Christianity today, but this was not true in 2004 and reflects a strong increase in Christian language in her campaign materials [link].
In 2004, seven years after her conversion, she was quoted as saying she attended both Methodist and Sikh services [link] and even now her spokesman will admit that “She attends Sikh services once or twice a year in respect for her family… Like millions of others, she honors her mother and her father” [link].
At the same time, her current campaign material is much more unequivocal:
Question: Is Nikki a Christian?
Truth: In Nikki’s words: “My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make. God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day.” [link]
See? No reference to conversion in 1997, no sense of transition from a pagan past. She doesn’t have to, and in fact is secure enough that she can go to Gurdwara on ocassion to keep her parents happy and perhaps drum up some donations. At the same time, religion is enough of a vulnerability in SC that she’s fairly defensive about it. But she’s positioned herself differently from the way Jindal does.