Friday, June 29, 2018

Nikki and the Post Truth Juggernaut

One can’t help it. One feels good about an Indian (well, okay Indian origin) girl growing up to do big things. Nikki – probably a pet name that her family lovingly used, a word that in Punjabi actually means ‘little one’ – has grown up into one of the biggest, most powerful positions in the world. She is an ambassador of one of the most powerful, most heavily militarized nations in the world, deputed to the United Nations, the ultimate world body.
Now she’s back in the country her parents left, seeking greener pastures. But what is she doing here? She, who is neither the President, nor the Vice President, neither handling trade nor defense nor external affairs portfolios?
She’s said she’s here to make India-US ties stronger. So, she’s visiting religious places of all faiths, and meeting freed child slaves. And of course, she’s talking selectively of terrorism. Iran, Iraq, Syria. The usual parroting of trigger words like missiles, terrorists, and mentioning nations that are suffering the consequences of war, at least one of which was ruined under false pretexts by other former Presidents and Prime Ministers. The truth of America being lied to so that Iraq (the Iraqi people) could be destroyed, the truth about the defense business interests of former Presidents, the truth of growing neo-Nazi groups after Trump won the election – none of it has changed the way American representatives speak of other nations.
Haley is not talking about domestic terrorism, neither in India nor in the USA. When pointed questions are asked about international concern over the rise of extreme right wing groups of the non-Muslim type in India, she speaks instead of religious freedom. Possibly this is because the ‘T’ word can’t possibly be used for a country that isn’t Iran, or Iraq, or Syria. Or Libya or Egypt or Palestine. Iran is special, of course, because it is not yet at war, and it is essential to diplomatically isolate a nation before you can bring it to its knees and take control of its resources. Thus, the rhetoric about India needing to think about who it wants to do business with.
One understands. If Nikki Haley is going to run for President, she needs to talk the talk. She needs to breezily mention a personal interest in strengthening ties between the USA and India, while also talking tough – telling us who we can be friends with, who we must do ‘katti’ with.
The United Nations that is supposed to help prevent wars and minimize their human impact. The USA has quit the human rights council after a report commented on growing income disparity and poverty in her country. It has fallen to Haley to call the UN human rights council “an organisation that is not worthy of its name" and “a cesspool of political bias”. Who can blame her? There’s no way to counter truth except by saying that it is false. There is no way to hide poverty and income disparity except by calling the question “ridiculous”.
She needs to go on saying ‘wealthiest and freest’ even as black moms and dads get shot in their own backyards, cars, homes, and while kids of all colour get killed in schools, and while homelessness is rife, and statistics suggest that the minimum wage in all American states do not permit workers to rent a two-bedroom apartment, so either these wealthy and free families are squished into tiny homes or they’re going to have to stay childless. It is actually ridiculous given that America is wealthy and free.
Despite being the child of immigrants, Nikki Haley can’t afford to take a pro-migrant stand. Instead, she will draw a line between legal and illegal migrants and keep parroting the word ‘law’ as if the meaning of that word was somehow leached of its own meaning. The law matters, she says, knowing full well that war, persecution and hungry children recognize no law. Faced with the relentless murders of unarmed protestors, journalists, medical aides, and little children in Palestine, she is going to have to say that “no country would act with greater restraint than Israel”.
There will be no mention of the poverty line in India, which is actually the starvation line, or the fact that it is these conditions that push children into slave labour and women into sex slavery. Haley certainly isn’t going to talk about India’s socialist dreams and a model of school and university education in the 1950s and 60s that enabled her parents to study without going into debt, and then to move abroad. She is absolutely not talking about the great privilege of families in India where young people finish college and can afford to apply to foreign universities, or pay their way through legal immigration services.
At any rate, it is good to see that Haley can trot out phrases that don’t necessarily add up to truth. It is a trait shared by career politicians everywhere. The desi phrase for it is: baatein gol-mol karna. To turn words around into a ball of nothing, to make suggestions rather than commitments. She’s proved adept.
As for India, the questions nobody has seen fit to put to her as a representative of the Trump administration are the questions that will decide the future of India-US ties.

First published in The Quint:
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