The denouement of the Devyani Khobragade affair has all the trappings of a ‘settlement’ between Delhi and Washington. Of course, the exchange of Devyani with the faceless Counsellor in the American embassy in Delhi did not take place a foggy morning on a remote tarmac at Vienna airport or at Checkpoint Charlie as dusk was falling.
But the ‘body language’ already shows that the American diplomat was not an ordinary run-of-the-mill functionary. The CNN commentary is livid (here). It virtually asks, How dare you, you upstarts, touch our man in Delhi?
Clearly, after inter-agency consultations, Delhi zeroed in on an appropriate retaliation and had a response ready up the sleeves in anticipation of the possible flow of developments. Presumably, we are getting rid of a US operative who has been on the radar of our agencies for a while. That is indeed smart thinking on Delhi’s part.
The Ministry of External Affairs gives no details regarding the expelled American diplomat. The MEA press release stuck to the facts regarding Khobragade’s transfer to India, but, notably, made it clear that her stance enjoys strong backing of the government.
The FOAs [Friends of America] in our media and think tanks are heaving a collective sigh of relief that the diplomatic row has ended. But, has it really ended? Such episodes in inter-state relations leave residues, inevitably.
The bottom line is that the US’ demand to Delhi to withdraw Khobragade was a pro forma requirement once they decided to grant her diplomatic status when a case is pending against her. On the other hand, Delhi’s decision to ‘retaliate’ is a considered decision taken at a level not less than — at the very minimum — External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
And, Delhi would know well enough that the US does not take kindly to expulsion of its diplomats by foreign countries. To add to it, the diplomat expelled from Delhi also happens to be a key operative in their intelligence set-up, possibly its very head. But Washington should also take note, in all fairness, that Delhi behaved with exemplary restraint — it is merely expelling the US counsellor without subjecting him to cavity search, et al.
What lies ahead? The irreducible minimum is that the MEA should not roll back its stance that the US-India diplomatic ties ought to be in the spirit of strict reciprocity. This is not only a matter of self-respect but also ensures a fair deal from the American side for our diplomats posted in the US. Above all, the US itself is a great stickler for diplomatic reciprocity and it insists on such conduct even with its tiny neighbors in Central America.
Meanwhile, so many unsavory details have emerged in the past few weeks regarding the functioning of the American embassy in Delhi. How is it that the American embassy could become a law unto itself? Certainly, South Block knew all along that the US embassy was misusing diplomatic privileges and breaking Indian laws with immunity? If so, why did MEA look away?
Some serious introspection is needed — by the political class, principally. There was no conceivable justification for a deputy prime minister to mess around with issues that are best left to the Delhi Police. It betrays an attitude of mind.
There must be clarity that when one of the country’s diplomats is arrested, detained with criminals and subjected to humiliations, it is nothing but an insult to the nation. That is the quintessence of the Vienna Convention. No need to beat around the bush here. At least on this score we all must agree — FOAs included. Simply put, no one will tell us this, but it is a fact of life that others lose respect for us when they see pusillanimity in us.
Looking back, Delhi handled this affair brilliantly. The South Block kept up the pressure on Washington — and calibrated it day by day with precision — to make it clear that India won’t take lying low this despicable and barbaric behavior by the Americans and the broader relationship between the two countries would get seriously damaged. The firmness — without an ounce of grandstanding involved — paid.
Posted in Diplomacy.
– January 10, 2014