Here’s why South Block is seething with anger at the arrest of Devyani Khobragade.
Sujatha Singh was on her maiden visit as India’s foreign secretary to Washington D.C. when Khobragade’s arrest was being planned. Joint Secretary (Americas) Vikram Doraiswami, the man heading the Americas desk at South Block, was sitting in the U.S. State Department in the U.S. capital, discussing furthering of bilateral relations at the very moment that Khobragade was arrested in New York.
Indian diplomats perceive this arrest as a betrayal and are calling it “a slap across their face” and that the Americans “made a monkey out of them”. The trust built between India and the U.S. over the past decade has unravelled in the span of a week, claims the Indian diplomatic community.
The question whether Khobragade indulged in illegality has ceased to be the issue. It has now become more about the Americans not repaying the trust the current dispensation in New Delhi had reposed in them. South Block is also utterly convinced that the U.S. State Department was well aware of the arrest when it took place, but failed to even mention it to Doraiswami.
There is little doubt that Sangeeta Richard’s father-in-law R.K. Samuel works for U.S. Embassy officials in New Delhi, say sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). The officials also have little doubt that the entire incident is part of an immigration fraud and that Indian-origin U.S. attorney Preet Bharara exploited this to further his political ambitions.
Currently, Khobragade’s passport is in the possession of U.S. authorities and she has been directed to stay in U.S. territory.
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid today reiterated that Khobragade has been a victim of a conspiracy and entrapment related to human trafficking. He refused to reply to Bharara’s version of events. But official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said unlike what Bharara has claimed there was “only one victim in this case and that victim is Devyani Khobragade”.
Akbaruddin claimed the Indian diplomat was shown “no courtesies” by the security officials. On the “evacuation” of the family of Sangeeta Richard, Akbaruddin said a foreign government had no right to evacuate Indian citizens from India while cases were pending against them. “Why is legal process in a friendly and democratic country interfered with in this manner,” he asked. He termed Bharara statement as “one more attempt at post facto rationalization of action which should never have been taken in the first place”.
Indian diplomats say this isn’t how friends or strategic partners behave. India wants her passport to be returned, that she be allowed to return home and the cases against her dropped in due course.
But the incident is refusing to die down in India. It has the potential to become a serious political issue in Maharashtra. Khobragade’s father has now threatened to go on hunger strike.
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.