It's Now Time to Introspect and Mend Fences with US
By Kamlendra Kanwar | Published: 12th January 2014 06:00 AM |
The return of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade from New York on transfer to the external affairs ministry establishment in New Delhi in the wake of the controversy surrounding her arrest and subsequent indictment by a US jury for “visa fraud” and under-paying her domestic help should ordinarily have marked an end to an ugly chapter in Indian diplomacy and Indo-US relations. But as things stand, the souring of relations will perhaps continue for some more time. India’s decision to expel a US consular official of parallel seniority to Devyani surely does not bode well for the relationship.
The Americans, pastmasters in demonstrating that they have the upper hand in any controversy, have made sure that Devyani returns home with a Damocles’ sword hanging over her head—that she cannot return to the US without facing imprisonment once she is on an assignment in which she does not enjoy full diplomatic immunity.
Khobragade who was Deputy Consul-General of India in the US based at New York when she was arrested, handcuffed, strip-searched and kept in jail for a few hours in the company of criminals, on charges of ill-treating her maid and paying her less than the stipulated salary, is being a hypocrite when she or her bureaucrat father say she stands vindicated.
While the Indians went to ridiculous lengths in cutting down on special privileges granted over the years to US diplomats most of which should not have been given in the first place, the Americans only gnashed their teeth but did not retaliate. They showed their annoyance instead by not yielding an inch in the Khobragade case. In the final analysis, the Indian government looked as though it was over-reacting and the Indian media, much of which parroted the establishment’s tune, looked ridiculously one-sided and shallow.
In a dispensation in which ministers speak their mind on issues on which they have no locus standi, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath waxed eloquent that an
apology by the US “for the sake of formality” would not help and it should accept its mistake in “unambiguous terms”. This was completely unnecessary after John Kerry had expressed regret over the incident of handcuffing and arrest of the Indian diplomat. Nath said all countries should draw a lesson from the incident and “raise their voice” whenever such a thing takes place.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s unduly confrontational attitude also contributed to an escalation of the row rather than dousing the flames of mutual lack of trust. The Foreign Secretary too was on the same wave length and there was a glaring absence of a moderating influence.
India’s reaction to Devyani’s ill-treatment was knee-jerk, removing security barricades outside the US embassy, withdrawing the special privileges of American diplomats and finally asking the US embassy to shut its bar and spa in New Delhi. As the IFS fraternity egged the government on and TV channels added fuel to the fire, emotional appeals were made in the name of national honour having been compromised. With general elections around the corner, taking a radical position against the Americans was considered a good bet and the government looked upon it as an opportunity to show its muscle to debunk the charge that it is spineless and weak-kneed.
Clearly, while the Americans were utterly high-handed in the manner in which they arrested and humiliated Devyani and in the contempt they showed for diplomatic niceties, the Indian government looked churlish in the way it handled the whole thing.
It is now time to introspect in overall strategic national interest and to mend fences with the US.
The author is a former journalist