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Questions hang over India-US spat over Devyani Khobragade row

Saturday, 28 December 2013 - 12:00pm IST | Place: Washington, DC | Agency: IANS

As diplomats try to work out a way to resolve the India-US diplomatic row triggered by the arrest and strip search of an Indian diplomat, several questions hang over the unsavoury episode.

Who in the State Department signed off on the arrest of Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny, unmindful of the consequences?

Would housekeeper Sangeeta Richard's allegations against her employer have gained so much traction without her family's contacts with the US embassy, with her father-in-law reported to be working for a US diplomat in Delhi?

Did New York's Indian-American prosecutor Preet Bharara really goof up in mistaking Khobragade's own salary of $4,500 mentioned in the visa application with the one she contracted to pay to Richard as alleged by the Indian diplomat's lawyer?

Was the US side not aware that Khobragade, who has since been transferred to India's permanent mission to the UN, was entitled to full diplomatic immunity even at the time of her Dec 12 arrest, thanks to her concurrent accreditation to the UN since Aug 26?

And why did take New Delhi so long to discover that Khobragade may have had diplomatic immunity all along and bring it to the attention of the State Department, which has now promised to examine the claim?

Few answers were forthcoming as India's new ambassador S Jaishankar plunged into the task of resolving the crisis with meetings Thursday with Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Under Secretary for Management Patrick F Kennedy.

But officials refuted State Department's contention that it had warned the Indian embassy as early as Sep 4 about the allegations against Khobragade and it should have seen the action coming against the Indian diplomat.

The boot was, in fact, on the other foot as the US side chose not to respond to a series of communications both to the State Department and the US embassy in New Delhi starting with a report about Richard's disappearance in June.

It had also responded "fairly muscularly" Oct 8 to the State Department's Sep 4 missive pointing out that an arrest warrant issued by a Delhi court was pending against Richard.

It had also sought US help in tracing and repatriating Richard back to India so that so that due process of law may be prosecuted in India.

Officials also suggest that far from being a case of "human trafficking" that the US side has made it out to be, it was more likely a clever immigration con — with the nanny being the only gainer.

With the US throwing the letter of the law, that too in its extreme, it should not be surprised at the retaliatory measures taken by India, which officials insist are in strict reciprocity to what Indian diplomats get in the US.

Jaishankar would appear to have a two week window to persuade the US side to drop the charges against Khobragade before her Jan 13 scheduled appearance before a Manhattan court so that the growing rift between the two "strategic partners" could be contained.

Meanwhile, Prabhu Dayal, India's former consul general in New York, who made an undisclosed settlement with his former housekeeper, Santosh Bhardwaj, over alleged mistreatment, has suggested a drastic solution to prevent recurrence of such episodes.

An atmosphere of fear rules at the Indian Consulate in New York because of the lack of full diplomatic immunity and the potential for lawsuits from domestic help, he told News India Times, an ethnic newspaper published from New York.

Dayal's solution, according to the Times, would be to close down the New York consulate and shifting its duties to the Indian embassy in Washington DC and to India's Permanent Mission at the UN.


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