Ivanka's tryst with India

As Hyderabad gussies up for the Indo-US Global Entrepreneurship Summit next week, there is an added edge to the preparations owing to the presence of Ivanka Trump, who will deliver the keynote address and appear on two panels. Ms Trump is not just any First Daughter; she is a paid-up presidential advisor and she is here as the US President’s official representative to the summit. She may have been booed and hissed on her official trip to Germany, and may have faced a nearly empty auditorium in Japan, but she can be assured of the warmest of welcomes during her maiden visit here. That is not only because Indians are innately hospitable but also because Ms Trump represents a triumphal affirmation of many core values that characterise modern Indian politics and business.  

The appointment of a child, and her spouse, in an official capacity in the presidential administration with full security clearance and a coveted West Wing office is unprecedented in post-war US history, and it has duly drawn harsh comment from the hostile liberal press. True, JFK appointed his brother US Attorney General, but Bobby had to go through the wringer of Senate confirmatory hearings, processes that Ms Trump and Jared Kushner, her husband, have avoided as direct White House appointees. Such ethical niceties are unlikely to faze Indian politicians. From the Congress party onwards, every Indian political party revels in nepotism, the familial nexus being the raison d’être for several of them. This makes Indian politics uniquely amoral. 

Is the special investigation into Russian interference in the US elections getting uncomfortably hot for the First Son-in-Law? Not an issue: First Damaads have enjoyed considerable power in the PMO and in preferential real estate deals. It is ironic that Ms Trump's official host is Narendra Modi, one of those rare Indian politicians who owes his rise to his own capabilities. His aversion to nepotism is unlikely to be her top concern anyway, just so long as the Indian PM keeps his promises to Dad and buys scads of American weaponry and Texan oil — the 45th US president’s chief job-creation technique to date.

Likewise, no one is likely to excoriate Ms Trump for her well-established hypocrisy of championing women’s rights and civil rights even as she affects an extraordinary blindness to her father's overt sexism and racism. Indeed, she need have no fear that these issues will come up during her brief visit here; these characteristics are so well entrenched in a male-dominated Indian society as to be uncontested, except among a minuscule liberal elite. As for her brand of feminism, it will be entirely in sync with Indian business, where “enlightened” family-run enterprises are appointing their daughters as successors, though many continue to baulk at hiring women in executive positions and do next to nothing to strengthen rules against sexual harassment. Ms Trump’s prescription for working mothers — tax breaks — has been jeered at in the US for its narrow elitism. In India, where women still struggle to be born, let alone become mothers, this privileged worldview is unlikely to engage anyone’s interest.

That leaves her role as an entrepreneur as a purveyor of a fashion line and branded accessories. Though she has rolled her business into a blind trust — which is about as believable as the exercise her father followed — she still receives pay-outs from it. Built entirely courtesy Daddy’s influence and support, Ms Trump’s company derives its profits from the practice her father condemned during his inaugural speech: outsourcing to China. After a spike during last year’s campaign, sales have plummeted as US consumers vote with their wallets against her father's regime. Maybe Ms Trump should launch her line in India. If she labelled it “Family Values”, few Indian consumers would spot the irony.

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