Diplomatic action must not be taken in haste

The daily newspapers seem to be like a parade of ‘issues’, outraging different aspects of Indian public morality on different days, depending on the topic.

The latest matter to exercise the collective imagination of our country is the Devyani Khobragade case.

The deputy consul general was arrested without proper procedure being followed, and she was unfairly treated as well, being strip-searched and incarcerated with criminals, before being moved to Permanent Mission with diplomatic immunity.

It transpires that strip-searching is a standard procedure for US Marshals, but the question remains whether using US Marshals is justified in the case of diplomats, and when the alleged crime is not of a serious nature. The US maintains that fudging visa details is serious enough to warrant an arrest of this nature.

Even if, as the US says, Khobragade is not entitled to immunity from prosecution for crimes that are outside the purview of her job, the treatment meted out to her certainly appeared unjustifiably harsh for the circumstances.

It seemed like deliberate humiliation, and naturally evoked indignation at home as well as among the Indian community abroad. In fact it has become common ground even for the polarised Indian politicos, with just about everyone baying for US blood.

Reactions have, predictably perhaps, become extreme and even ludicrous. Some politicians are asking for the arrest of gay US diplomats in India since the Supreme Court has upheld the validity of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

This is a non sequitur, as no crime is committed for which they can be arrested. Diplomatic snubs have also been in vogue, with Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi, as well as other dignitaries, refusing to meet US delegations.

The whole imbroglio is beginning to take on aspects of a cold war, with talk of passes being withdrawn and privileges suspended for diplomats’ families.

While diplomatic action has its place, actions such as the removal of security barriers from outside the US embassy have wider repercussions. A security issue is created, and if it is taken advantage of by unscrupulous elements, India will have even more egg on its face than the case of underpaid, overworked domestic help. 

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