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Press Release
Diplomacy is not dadagiri...

When the din has subsided, emotions have cooled down; Indian TV news channels fed on 24x7 breaking news have moved on to bigger crises or some juicier story, what will be the lasting memory of Devyani khobragade case? The acting Consul General of India in New York, was arrested in front of her daughters’ school, hand cuffed, stripped, cavity searched and held with hardened criminals in the oldest democracy whose top leaders never get tired of proclaiming that their relationship with India is the most “defining relationship of the 21st century!” Sadly, the two images don’t add up. The treatment meted out to the Indian Acting CG doesn’t behove the oldest democracy. Aren’t civilized democracies expected to behave in a more mature, sensitive and nuanced manner? To put it mildly, the manner of arresting, handcuffing & detaining the Indian diplomat was uncouth, uncivilized, & appallingly undiplomatic; it was worthy of an ordinary Cop! What surprises the most; it was approved by the State Dept!

If this is the manner in which the Sate Dept wishes to treat diplomats of the so called “strategic partner”, that partnership is nothing more than a meaningless charade! The US should learn to attach values to their words or none will believe their words. They just have no defence; they were wrong both in labelling charges of human trafficking & arresting ; it shouldn’t be such a big deal to say sorry. To err is human.

Even if the accusations against Devyani of violation of the US minimum wages law & furnishing of false info in the visa application were true (this is yet to be established in the court ) did these violations constitute such a grave danger to the US interests that she should have been treated the way she was? She isn’t an Al Qaeda operative nor was she fleeing the US; why weren’t the diplomatic channels allowed to resolve this case? To convert a simple wage dispute in to criminal human trafficking and letting it degenerate in to an ugly and undesirable public spat raises serious doubts about the real intent of the US State Dept. Apparently, Distt Attorney Preet Bharara has his own agenda to use this case as another feather in his cap for fulfilling his political ambitions. Sangeeta went to the US as a maid fully aware of how much she will be paid with a meticulously worked out plan to stay on there. The US Embassy in Delhi facilitated her husband’s & daughter’s “evacuation”; media reports claim they purchased their air tickets. Why? To strengthen strategic partnership?

When diplomats of friendly countries were caught trying to smuggle in banned items, Indian authorities didn’t arrest or handcuff them nor did they go public; their Missions were quietly advised to transfer them out of India which they did. If the US felt strongly that the conduct of Devyani was unbecoming of a foreign diplomat, they could have discreetly advised the Indian govt to withdraw her from the US. It’s so simple!

If the State Dept had conveyed to the Indian Embassy in Washington in Sept it’s “serious concern” about charges against Devyani’s and hinted at imminent action, why didn’t the MEA shift her to PMI New York? Had the Embassy & the MEA acted swiftly, this humiliating episode could have possibly been avoided.

There will be unending arguments about the consular immunity & whether the diplomat had violated the US laws. Evidently, Devyani case can be resolved only by a political decision by the US which will depend on America’s overall assessment of the significance of their relations with India. With lengthening shadows of an assertive & aggressive China, where does India fit in the US Pivot or Rebalance in Asia? How useful is India for a safe and smooth Exit of the US troops from Afghanistan and its political stability thereafter? Does India have a role in the nascent thaw between the US & Iran? How does India impact the deliberations & decisions of the organization like G-20, the UN & WTO? What about the discourse on global warming & climate change? A host of issues of huge importance like this impinge on the multi-dimensional, multi-layered, burgeoning relationship between India & the US. What about the bilateral trade and investment, especially the galloping defence trade? It will be naive to suggest that the leadership in the two countries aren’t aware of these factors. It is beyond imagination that such a relationship can be allowed to be derailed on an issue related to a maid servant!

Give the quiet diplomacy a chance. Diplomacy is not dadagiri; its delicate handling of sensitive issues with diplomatic finesse, never losing sight of the broader picture that serves the national interests. India & the US should have a candid discussion to find a “cool” solution of the current “hot” impasse away from the media gaze and neon arcs. Legal wrangling won’t take very far. Morarji Desai couldn’t win his libel case against Seymour Hersh what chance does Devyani stand? Adil Shahiriyar son of late Mohd Yunus languishing in the US prison on drug trafficking charges was pardoned by Reagan & put on board the Indian PM’s plane. If there is will, they can find a way.

Dozens of Indian domestic assistants accompanying Indian diplomats go missing in the US every year. The US authorities must be kidding if they say they aren’t aware. A bilateral agreement about domestic assistants could be a practical way forward.

Surendra Kumar
A former Ambassador