Forget diplomacy: India returns the favour

Published: 18 December, 2013 00:47 IST | Agencies |

Diplomatic tension between the United States and India escalated in the wake of Devyani Khobragade's arrest last week, with Indian authorities asking US consular officers to return their identity cards and rescinding airport passes

India yesterday sought an unconditional apology from the US over the arrest and the purported strip search of its ranking diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York and also took a slew of steps to pare down the privileges of American diplomats in an apparent retaliatory measure.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath said the US should tender an ‘unconditional apology’ to India over the public humiliation of its diplomat, and that “more steps need to be taken to awaken the US that it’s a changed world”.

Tough stance
The union minister’s tough message came after India asked US diplomats in consulates across the country to surrender their diplomatic Identity Cards issued to them and their families by the Indian government.

Anger escalates: In retaliation to Devyani Khobragade’s arrest, the Delhi police removed police barricades from streets near the US embassy in the capital. Pic/AFP

India has also withdrawn all airport passes for consulates and import clearances for the embassy. This helped them to import liquor without paying airport fees. The Delhi police were seen sweeping away protective yellow barricades from behind the US Embassy.

The barricades for years restricted public movement around theembassy and normal vehicular traffic was particularly barred from the slip road in front of the embassy and the visa office at the back of the chancery.

India is also seeking details like salaries paid to Indian staff employed in the US consulates, including those working as domestic helps with the families of American officials because there is suspicion that Indian staff at the US embassy were discriminated against.

Khobragade was charged last week with visa fraud and makingfalse statements. She was accused by Manhattan’s Indian American US Attorney Preet Bharara of visa fraud and exploiting her babysitter and housekeeper. She was handcuffed in public by law enforcement authorities in New York while she was dropping her daughter at school.

Political snub
Indian officials blasted the police treatment of the young diplomat amid claims she had been strip-searched and confined with hard-core criminals during her detention. India’s national security adviser called the treatment “despicable and barbaric.” Khobragade was later released on a $250,000 bond.

To protest the treatment, the Indian government also lodged a formal complaint with Nancy Powell, the US ambassador to India. On Monday, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and NationalSecurity Advisor Shivshankar Menon cancelled their meetingsseparately with the visiting US delegation. Speaker Meira Kumar, herself a former Indian career diplomat, declined to meet the US delegation “as a sign of displeasure” over the treatment meted out Khobragade.

BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi too declined to meet the US team. He tweeted: “Refused to meet the visitingUSA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA.”

Followed standard procedure: US
Even as the row escalated, the US refused to cave in and said that they had merely followed ‘standard procedure.’ “The State Department’s Diplomatic Security followed standard procedures during the arrest,” said spokesperson Marie Harf when askedwhy the US was not respecting basic courtesies to a diplomatas it expected others to respect its own diplomats.

“After her arrest, she was passed on to the US marshals for intake and processing. So for any additional questions on her treatment, obviously, this would be the US Marshals and not us. Iwould refer you there,” she said. Harf also made a distinction between diplomatic immunity and consular immunity.

“Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian deputy consul general enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions,” she said.

“This isn’t just in the US; it’s all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant,” Harf said.

Past incidents
>> In 2010 there was uproar after India’s UN envoy, Hardeep Puri, was reportedly asked to remove his turban at a US airport and detained in a holding room when he refused.
>> In December 2010, India’s US ambassador Meera Shankar was patted down by airport authorities in Mississippi. The incident prompted claims that India had been ‘insulted’.
>> In 2009 Continental Airlines apologised to former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam for searching him in Delhi before he boarded a flight to the US
>> In 2005 India’s former speaker of parliament Somnath Chatterjee refused to attend an international meeting in Australia without a guarantee that he would not have to pass through security. Chatterjee said even the possibility of a security screening was ‘an affront to India’.

The arrest
Prosecutors in New York say Khobragade claimed she would pay her Indian maid $4,500 a month when applying for a visa atthe US embassy in Delhi to bring her to New York but actuallypaid her a third of the US minimum wage of about $10 an hour. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which could lead toa 10- year prison sentence.

Yashwant Sinha raises eyebrows
Reacting to the arrest, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said that it is a barbaric act and no words are strong enough to condemn the treatment meted out by the US authorities. Sinha further said that diplomats from US are being treated as viceroys in India and we do not use reciprocity as an instrument of diplomacy. He further said that in wake of the recent SC ruling criminalising gay sex, even homosexual diplomats, who have been granted visa for staying in India, should be arrested.

Diplomat’s father reacts

Devyani Khobragade’s father was assured by Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde yesterday that justice would be delivered and the government is trying to drop the charges levelled against her in the US. “The home minister has assured the government will try to get charges dropped, as she was discharging a government duty and there would be no harm done to her,” said Uttam Khobragade, Devyani’s father. Shinde confirming, said, “I met Devyani’s father and have promised him that justice will be delivered.” Earlier, Uttam Khobragade said his daughter is being made ‘a scapegoat’ and even asked UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi to intervene.“It is the government who sent my daughter. It is a political issue between these two countries and my daughter is being made a scapegoat,” he said adding, “Even if she is arrested, she should have been treated with dignity.” 

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