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India ups ante, puts US on the backfoot

India on Thursday hit back at US Attorney Preet Bharara, who had justified Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s arrest, accusing him of interfering with the Indian legal system and asserting that the arrest was not in keeping with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunity.

India also demanded that the case against its senior diplomat, arrested and strip-searched in New York on charges of visa fraud, should be dropped unconditionally. Ministry of external affairs said, ‘It needs to be asked what right a foreign government has to evacuate our citizens from India while cases are pending against them on Indian soil.’

Criticising the US prosecutor for making statement for ‘post facto rationalisation’ for an action that should never have taken place in the first instance, external affairs ministry spokesperson said there were no courtesies extended to Khobragade, who is the only ‘victim’ in this case.

He said despite acknowledging that legal process were in place in India, the statement talks why it was necessary to evacuate the family of absconding maid Sangeeta Richard, thereby, making ‘implicit comment’ about the Indian legal system, its enforcement authorities, and the responsibility that legal officials of a foreign government seem to ‘arrogate upon’ themselves with regard to nationals of another country.

Meanwhile, senior US official Wendy Sherman called India’s foreign secretary Sujatha Singh to find a way out of the diplomatic row between the two countries, according to sources. Sherman, during the 20-minute talk, discussed ways to de-escalate the controversy and also distanced the US government from US attorney Preet Bharara’s statements saying Devyani was treated well in police custody. Sherman’s call came after US secretary of state John Kerry had apologized to India’s national security advisor Shivshankar Menon over the diplomat’s arrest.

‘We need to keep in mind the simple fact that there is only one victim in this case. That victim is Devyani Khobragade - a serving Indian diplomat on mission in the United States.

‘The action taken against her was not in keeping with the Vienna Convention. There were no courtesies in the treatment that was meted out to the diplomat, under the normal definition of that word in English language,’ he said.

Observing that the statement includes remarks about equality before the law of both the rich and the poor, the spokesperson said, ‘Not only is this a rhetorical remark that is not conducive to resolving ‘inaccuracies’, it is also not a feature of the law that is exclusive to the office of the Manhattan US Attorney.’

In a statement in the US, the India-born Bharara not only defended the action against Khobragade but also said that maid Sangeeta Richard’s family has been brought to the US. He said a legal process was started in India to ‘silence her and attempts were made to compel her to
return to India’.
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