Nikki Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrant parents from Amritsar, created history on Wednesday as she became the first woman governor of South Carolina and the first Indian American woman to take the top state office.
With her left hand on a Bible held by her husband Michael, Republican Haley, born Nimrata (Nikki) Randhawa, took the oath of office as the first non-white governor of the state in an inaugural ceremony on the on the steps of Statehouse in Columbia 24 minutes after noon (10.54 pm IST).
At 38, the mother of two is the second Indian-American governor of a US state after Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, also a Republican, who became the first with his election three years ago. The 117th South Carolina governor is also the youngest sitting chief executive of an American state.
The first couple's daughter Rena, 12, and son Nalin, 8, stood by them as Haley, dressed in an off-white coat over a grey-green knee-length dress raised her right hand to take the oath of office. Husband Michael, who is a member of the South Carolina National Guard, was in his army dress uniform.
Elegantly dressed in a green sari, Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar attended the inaugural ceremony watched by US lawmakers, diplomats and other dignitaries and telecast live by local TV stations.
Haley replaces outgoing Governor Mark Sanford, who gained national attention after an affair with a woman from Argentina was announced on national television.
Inaugural events started with a 9 a.m. prayer service at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral across from Statehouse grounds. A bagpipe procession opened the ceremony. An open house at the governor's mansion and a gala Wednesday evening round out the activities.
Haley, who defeated Democrat Vincent Sheheen with a surprisingly close 51 percent-47 percent vote in the most expensive election in state history in November, has already like Jindal been mentioned as a "long shot" presidential candidate for 2012.
From a racial slur from a fellow lawmaker to unproven accusations of an affair by a political blogger, Haley saw quite a bit of controversy surround her campaign before the Republican primary earlier this year. But she still snagged the party nomination in a run-off in June with 65 percent votes.
Haley, one of the strongest fiscal conservatives in state government, was first elected to represent the 87th District in Lexington County in 2004, when, as a virtual unknown, she beat the longest serving state legislator in a Republican primary.
In 2008, Haley was sent back to the state house with 83 percent of the vote - the highest percentage earned by any lawmaker facing a contested South Carolina election that year.