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All’s well that ends well in US-India ties

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. 

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6 Responses

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  1. Sidhartha abhaya says

    “Looking back, Delhi handled this affair brilliantly.” Can you please clarify how Delhi handled this and other previous affairs brilliantly?

    No one can believe that such a violation of a person would have ever taken place if it was a European diplomat who was on a similar charge. In 2011, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a Frenchman, the head of the IMF, was involved in a rape in a New York hotel and was arrested. Would he have been strip-searched and cavity probed? Never! He was a European and White.

    The current Indian government must take some responsibility for this very public humiliation of an Indian official. Highly placed Indian officials have been humiliated by US authorities on numerous occasions to muted protests by the Indian government while India dared not take similar reciprocal action against US officials in India. In 2009, former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, was singled out for frisking by US Continental Airlines officers at New Delhi airport before he boarded a plane to New York. In 2011 President Kalam had already been through security at New York JFK Airport and boarded an Air India plane preparing for take off when US security officers forcibly entered the plane and removed his coat and shoes for examination for explosives. In December 2010, Indian Ambassador to the US, Mrs. Meera Shankar, on her way to speak at Mississippi State University, was singled out for a body “pat down” at Mississippi airport despite the information that she was the highest ranking Indian diplomat in the country. Leading Indian actors, Shah Rukh Khan and Amr Khan, have been detained at US airports for hours for questioning every time they arrive to a point where Shak Rukh Khan jokes about it. These are only a few of the indignities suffered by prominent Indians in the USA.

    After every such episode a US official would issue a simple apology while insisting it is within their right to search anyone at airports. Can you imagine such treatment being meted out to comparable European leaders like ex-UK Prime Minister Tony Blair or ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy? Such treatment, Indians and other non-Europeans must understand, is reserved for them.

  2. tick says

    franklin wilson says
    hindi amriki bhai bhai, sangeeta richards hai hai



    Why throw stones on a individual, who may indeed have been an innocent victim.
    You got to zero in on those real players, and render them inconsequential. So that we can say:

    hindi amriki dost rahenge, ek doojay ka fikr hum karengey

  3. Guptan Veemboor says

    Sir, you have mentioned that India has handled this whole affair very well. At first, when Ms.Devyani was arrested, India cried that she has diplomatic immunity. When that did not cut ice India decided to shift her to UN where she will have full fledged immunity. When US madeit clear that such posting cannot have retrospective effect, someone got the knowledge that she was already attached to UN. How that fact eluded all the babus of MEA is something of a wonder. The whole MEA was running like rats in a cage. When the fate of Ms.Devyani was about to be sealed and she was to appear in a court of law, US gave the permission to have diplomatic immunity by approving India’s hurried transfer of her to UN. I would say the whole thing was clumsily done by India. To support someone who has done something wrong is absolutely wrong-diplomat or ordinary citizen. At least if India had taken disciplinary action on her after she arrived in India it would have been good. But she was given a princess’ welcome. And the retaliatory action of asking the US diplomat was the silliest culmination. If he was suspected of being aCIA man he could have been asked to leave much early that is as soon as it was known. I do not think a country give any reason for expelling the diplomatic staff of another country. But to send him by ‘return flight’ of the one brought Ms.Devyani was ridiculous. And one last question. Could not Ms.Devyani was an RAW operator and US took this devious method to expel her ? All the staff in missions do this double contract and why she was picked up ?

  4. franklin wilson says

    hindi amriki bhai bhai, sangeeta richards hai hai

  5. Anurag Dayal says

    India should not relent the pressure it has built up and ensure that whatever information it has asked is submitted without delay.

    All the special privileges extended to the US Consulates should be withdrawn till our demands are met.

    Good work India keep it up!!!!!!!

  6. Dr Ajay says

    Excellent series of commentaries on this episode form Mr. MBK. You really want to ask why has the MEA behaving spinelessly so far. They should always stand on better moral grounds.
    Strength respects strength. Reciprocity matters. Reciprocity is not tit for tat or retribution – as both US and India media headlines scream.
    The bigger question is this: Why is not the main Indian English media editorials explaining the GOI position in clear language and as a complete story as do NYT and WashPo? This is what is needed to clear the misunderstanding in educated Indians FOA or not.

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