Khobragade arrest due to escalation gone awry

The US media has called the Indian reaction to diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s arrest and strip search, “revenge”.

But sources in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) say, if anything, it was the US government who wrought revenge on Indian diplomat for a perceived insult meted out to one of their own by New Delhi some months back, looking at an opportunity to get back.

In 2010, Neena Malhotra, a consul at the Indian consulate in New York was accused by her domestic help Shanti Gurung of “slavery”. A New York court in 2012 decided in Gurung’s favour. It directed Malhotra and her husband to award $1.5 million for “barbaric treatment” they meted out to Gurung. Malhotra and her husband didn’t attend hearings, having returned to India before Gurung filed her suit. The court ordered damages be recovered from the Malhotras, which would have meant any assets they might have in the US to have been seized. Malhotra appealed against the verdict but didn’t travel to the US.

In New Delhi, Malhotra occupied important postings. She was, until recently, joint secretary in the visa division. Here, in November, 2013, Malhotra refused a visa to the spouse of a gay US diplomat when she discovered that the couple were homosexual. She said Indian law didn’t recognise gay marriages.

Sources say this hurt the Americans as the Indian diplomat threw the rule book at them. Given South Block’s relations with the US, the US Embassy ensured that Malhotra was transferred out soon enough and the gay couple granted visa. There was a feeling that Malhotra may have been unfairly insistent that the American diplomat follow the rule book, when the spouse could have been granted a visa as a family member if not as spouse.

A source said Malhotra may have only been doing to the Americans what they did to her over the maid issue.

However, Malhotra was shifted to managing archives and records, clearly a punishment posting.

But the Americans were not satisfied. In New Delhi, IFS officers were upset that one phone call from Roosevelt House ensured the diplomat was moved out, in what was clearly a very public message to the entire diplomatic corps that the Americans should not be treated lightly. This, when the diplomat was only following laid down rules.

Further, as Khobragade’s father Uttam Khobragade told news media, the in-laws of his daughter’s domestic help, Sangeeta Rcihard, work for the US Embassy. The embassy ensured that Richards’s husband and two children were able to leave India for the US, two days before Khobragade was arrested.

There will likely be many questions asked about the reasons for this special treatment to Richards by the US and ‘standard’ treatment to Khobragade, over alleged visa fraud over wages.

Sources said Khobragade’s case had brewed since March. The US government had alerted the Indians in September about the case but didn’t take any further action. The Indian embassy also failed to take the warning seriously because it had become routine to ignore discrepancies in wages between diplomats and personal staff brought with them on contract. And although Khobragade, herself, doesn’t make the minimum wage in the US, she remains out of the ambit and protection of US law as she is an employee of the Indian government.

Sources said the Americans have become used red carpet treatment in the last decade, particularly during the Manmohan Singh years. Malhotra’s refusal to grant visa was an insult for which the Americans wanted to pay back the Indians. This is where they extracted revenge on Khobragade – treated her like a common criminal, arrested her in front of her daughter and strip and cavity searched her.

Sources said the Manmohan Singh government would ordinarily have buckled under, as in the past, when it comes to the US, but the IFS top brass felt humiliated, as this came within weeks of Roosevelt House ensuring Malhotra’s transfer.

Other factors that contributed to this situation included the prominence of the Khobragade family in Maharashtra. Her father was a top bureaucrat and active in the dalit politics of the state. Ignoring the Khobragade case could have backfired on the Congress in election season. The party could have been placed in a difficult position in a state where it still enjoys sizable support among dalits.

The issue could likely move towards resolution with the US Secretary of State John Kerry expressing his “regret” to NSA Shivshankar Menon. But with the belligerent statement of US Attorney Preet Bharara after Kerry’s phone call relations appear unlikely to improve anytime soon.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid claimed that Khobragade has entrapped in a “conspiracy”. India’s ambassador to South Korea Vishnu Prakash tweeted that “USA treated Devyani like a Taliban member in Guantanamo. Arrested & handcuffed her before her daughter in front of school gate”.

Former Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen has said that he had advocated for India to withdraw all non-reciprocal privileges that the Americans received in India, several years back. Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said there were many other such wage dispute cases involving US politicians, without them facing the treatment given to Khobragade.

India has transferred Devyani to its UN mission in New York. This gives her immunity from the US law.

A war of words also broke out within the IFS fraternity, with former secretary K.C. Singh openly accusing former foreign secretary and outgoing ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, of leaving India-US relations in shambles while herself having found a post-retirement sinecure.

Read the chronology of events that took place, eventually leading to the current controversy over the arrest and mistreatment of Devyani Khobragade by US authorities.

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70 comments
i_spread_mono
i_spread_mono

@NishkaK "Khobragade, herself, doesn’t make the minimum wage" ya, she just makes 100x more.

RanjanKumar555
RanjanKumar555

@sshibad Thanks for this article. But its high time,Khobragade or not, we showed some backbones. "Nvr trust Americans. Russians r different"

raghav2k
raghav2k

@Tarunvijay Bharara wants to be NY Guv, and then aim for AG! He has started his campaign to gain popularity

jkundnani
jkundnani

@sshibad not a valid reason to counter devyani. america would bow..if nt it would loose its interest in india

DrAdityan
DrAdityan

@Tarunvijay Do not be surprised! These are the ways of the US foreign policy establishment works.

CASanjeevVerma
CASanjeevVerma

@Tarunvijay Indians public figures must cancel their near future US visits as protest against US highhandedness

VijRajindar
VijRajindar

@Tarunvijay Why Indians fear & lick America, it is our own currency parity which compel our children to go there otheriwse they r paid 1/3rd

AmgAnoop
AmgAnoop

@neha_aks for example banki moon he had some charges on him he was kept infront of the prosecution

AmgAnoop
AmgAnoop

@neha_aks well she doesn't get immunity even if she is a UN member as the charges were filed before

rajat051984
rajat051984

@TarekFatah So many angles to one controversy !! :) Spy story thriller, Blackmail, foreign policy aka Bangladesh and finally IFS officers..

amz360
amz360

@TarekFatah @neha_aks So Dalit politics had a big role to play in the outrage at home.Politicians are quick thinkers!

TherapyGuru
TherapyGuru

Few questions linger in mind:

1. IFS are supposedly most intelligent administrative bureaucrats.  Could they not have obtained anticipatory bail when matter was brought to their attention.  What were they expecting, lethargic approach in as in Indian Government matters?

2. Indian honor is floored by these self styled rulers in IAS and IFS that they take any place for granted and have no regard for the pride of the country?

eyms2300
eyms2300

@sshibad they don't stop there they kill Americans over seas now. read more often.

MuchAd13
MuchAd13

@anilkohli54 church vs dalit. how ironical! former trgts latter for convrsins. many missions in delhi provide dom help. all 1st gen converts

MuchAd13
MuchAd13

@anilkohli54 would be interesting to see --> Dalit diplomat v/s product of 'soul harvesting" domestic help. Who will the Cons support?

APKrishnaMurthy
APKrishnaMurthy

This is what happens to our slavish attitude towards the white skin. India should have been strict in enforcing the rule of land to all countries diplomatic staff. The US got and still enjoy special privilages not given to other countries diplomats

WillMcLeod99
WillMcLeod99

@sshibad now THAT is interesting. This is a much more complicated story than I thought it was. Thank you.

SANDEEPCOL
SANDEEPCOL

@centerofright We have different yardsticks for different people.IAS/IFS/IPS lobbies very strong.Khobragade affects large no of votes.

s_navroop
s_navroop

@vinirish But some thing more to it coz of Zealous Prosecution of Maid & Her Family in India & Protection by US; not only diplomatic row !!

vinirish
vinirish

@s_navroop yes! Escalation gone awary..posturing before us court summons to Sonia...US interests being compromised by jihadis safe n India?

RanjanKumar555
RanjanKumar555

@sshibad away d maid's family,a clear case of interference in another country's judicial process.But she may lose all sympathy due to Adarsh

RanjanKumar555
RanjanKumar555

@sshibad That's a stupid act. Agents of US(NGOs funded by US) wud hv "arranged it" to project India as an anarchy&to justify whisking 1/n

UglyUPA
UglyUPA

@sshibad Since when India started worrying about its citizens,Reason for brouhaha is that after diplomat its Sonia's turn to be arrested

s_navroop
s_navroop

@vinirish Yup much more looks like US got on to some info thats y swift action & counter reaction in India !!!

vinirish
vinirish

@s_navroop seems USA chose a good target,powerful ex beaurocrats father,a Dalit officer,India bound to retaliate!uptill now,never did!

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