May 30, 2020
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Punjabi, Export Quality

Punjabi, Export Quality
Who says Canadian politics is boring? Watching Ruby Dhalla, an opposition MP and Punjabi-origin Canadian, fend off a ferocious series of scandals has been high drama indeed—with more than a dash of comedy. First, Dhalla was pilloried for trying to block the release of a Canadian-made faux-masala movie called Kyon? Kis Liye? This was because the publicity material featured a model with Dhalla’s admittedly fetching face sprawled suggestively on the seat of a motorcycle. A fake, the lady maintains. Photoshop. Then, last year, while on a visit to Punjab, a street urchin who’d lifted a handbag of one of her staff-members caught a thumping from a policeman’s shoe. Standard operating procedure in India, I know, but not the sort of thing that thrills softy Canadian voters. Neither incident holds a candle to Dhalla’s current travails though, dubbed by Toronto media—somewhat unimaginatively—as "Nannygate". The facts are in dispute but local reporters have unearthed three Filipina women claiming to have been ill-treated and underpaid by Dhalla’s family in their palatial home outside the city. All three tell remarkably similar stories, and the scandal emerged as the city’s gutsiest newspaper was in the middle of a hard-hitting investigative series on the plight of immigrant servants.

Dhalla denies all allegations and accuses the nannies of exploiting her fame for money. Legal writs are flying about like shoes at an Indian political campaign press conference. It’s all a bit of a shame really, for Dhalla’s life story is inspirational. At 10, she came to Indira Gandhi’s attention when she wrote an eloquent letter expressing anguish at Operation Blue Star. The late former PM read it aloud at a press conference. Dhalla earned a series of postgraduate degrees and opened a chain of chiropractic clinics. Elected to parliament in 2004, she’s one of the two Sikh women in a house full of boring men. Politics is a fickle business, and Dhalla may yet ride out this storm. But it’s hard to escape the feeling that she happens to be accident-prone, a political liability that even her undeniable telegenic glamour and lively mind cannot overcome.

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