Mum's the Word for Uncle Sam, Gives India Jitters
By Devirupa Mitra - NEW DELHI
Published: 05th Jan 2014 08:13:12 AM
Next week will be a crucial period in Indo-US relations, with India waiting for the US political leadership to take the reins to issue a G-1 visa and ID to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, even as New Delhi marshals legal argument to prove she had complete diplomatic immunity at time of arrest due to earlier UN accreditation.
Meanwhile, MEA seems to be tightening the screws further, with the latest move being to send a notice to the American Centre on Friday to stop screening movies without obtaining a licence. The notice asked the American Centre to comply with Government of
India laws and Delhi government regulations and obtain licence for screening films by January 20.
This step follows a series of other measures taken by the Indian government to bring US diplomatic institutions in line with strict reciprocity accorded to Indian diplomats—following the December 12 arrest of deputy consul general Khobragade for paying less than minimum wage to her domestic assistant Sangeeta Richard. India also had been furious that Richard’s family—husband and two children—had been spirited away on special visas for kin of trafficking victims, just two days before the arrest in New York.
The notice on movie screenings comes a day after the US state department had to clarify that a video being circulated on social networks was not that of the Indian diplomat being strip-searched by US marshals. “This video, which we are aware of, is absolutely not footage of Ms Khobragade. We would call it a dangerous and provocative fabrication,” state deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said on Friday in Washington.
This has been one of the strongest words from the state department on the Khobragade case. The video shows a woman screaming while being searched by police in custody.
“This hoax video, which I think has appeared on some news websites without obviously confirming its authenticity, because its not, we find it deeply troubling, irresponsible and reckless and condemn, again, this dangerous fabrication. I want to make very clear this is not a video of her,” Harf said.
Meanwhile, India is awaiting some signal from the US side that the G-1 visa will be given to Khobragade, so that she gets diplomatic immunity in line with her new position in the Permanent Mission of India to UN. Khobragade had been transferred to the UN permanent mission after her arrest, with New Delhi offering this to Washington as an “escape clause” from the current mess.
There is urgency in obtaining the G-1 visa as Khobragade’s next court hearing is on January 13, when she is expected to be indicted. The G-1 visa will get her a new identity card, which provides her immunity from future arrest or court summons.
If the visa is not given by January 13, then New Delhi feels that it would mean a strong signal that US does not want to de-escalate the matter, which has been dominating the ‘strategic partnership’ since last month.
After notice on movie screenings, India has the option to take action on other issues related to the US embassy like the running of a salon inside the American School. “All these actions are to show that we are serious,” said an official source.
So far, US Secretary of State John Kerry—currently on a tour of West Asia—has expressed regret over the circumstances of the arrest, which has been reiterated by US ambassador Nancy Powell and state department spokesperson.
The US side may have taken note, but they have to “walk the talk”, said official sources. The long holiday season due to Christmas and New Year has probably led to a slowing down of decision-making required to undo the knots—with “complete radio silence from their side” being used to describe the current reaction on the ongoing talks.
With US president Barack Obama returning from his Hawaii vacation on January 5, there is hope that the political leadership will take note that US-India relations have derailed. “If the political leadership does not take notice, then we are really in trouble,” said sources.
Meanwhile, South block is also properly preparing to give legal weight to the argument that Khobragade’s accreditation to UN as advisor in August 26, entitled her to full diplomatic immunity and was there valid at time of arrest.
The legal eagles are going through the 1947 headquarters agreement between United States and United Nations, as well as the 1946 General Convention on Privileges and Immunities on the United Nations.
As per the general conventions, representatives, whose definition also include advisors, enjoy “immunity from personal arrest or detention” while “exercising their functions”. India has asserted that even representatives to UN, whose accreditation don’t require a visa from US, have entirely full diplomatic immunity, as per the statutes.