Millennium Post

Their law, our disorder

The story of Devyani Khobragade leaves one with a sense of unease: one of omnipresent absence of honourable characters. Let us take the 1999 batch Indian Foreign Service officer first. She has clearly broken the law in falsely claiming in her housekeeper’s visa application that she is paid the US minimum wage of a just over nine dollars an hour.

Then let’s examine the case of Sangita Richards, the housekeeper. In the 20/20 vision that one gets in restrospect, she appears to have planned long ago to decamp once she reached the USA. In the process, she seems to have conspired to challenge Khobragade’s visa claim; create a ruckus; gain from US government’s righteous indignation and thus get her remaining family into the ‘land of promises’ and live happily ever after.

Then there is Khobragade’s father, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer, who clearly has a grasp of the inner wheels of the wheels-within-wheels Indian system. Reportedly close to the former Maratha strongman, Sharad Pawar, he clearly knows how to spin a story that would generate the optimum amount of public sympathy.

Finally, there is Preet Bharara, the New York state prosecutor. One recalls how the media here had exulted when he got appointed to the position as if having an Indian-origin man in the US judicial system was a national occasion of high achievement. The same Bharara had Khobragade handcuffed as she was dropping her child at the school, strip searched and refused all the courtesies normally merited by a diplomat.

Overarching all these bit players was the US Administration of Barack Obama that was at its law abiding best, despite its long standing record of breaking all laws of civility in numerous countries, killing their civilians with a complete insouciant, as if it was above the international laws that includes statutes against criminal actions concerning war crimes.

The Indian government, on the other hand, had failed totally to react to the Snowden disclosures of the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) culling information from the country, without so much as a by-your-leave to its strategic partner. Yet, in the case of Khobragade’s the same New Delhi had erupted in equal indignation at the treatment meted out to the diplomat.

What it did was exemplary. Not only did it visibly remove the barriers on the Chanakyapuri stretch, guarding against any terrorist attacks on the US embassy, but in a series of measures it cancelled all the special privileges to the American staff and their families. The demand was for an unqualified apology from the US government, no less, and withdrawal of all charges against Devyani. Even though she was quickly posted to the United Nations legation of India that accorded her diplomatic immunity, she was still not out of the woods in terms of charges levelled against her by the New York state counsel.

So now that the reality of how the USA views India has sunk in, the coming days will show whether the Indian government officials stop undertaking journeys to the country on subversive fellowships and whether their children start refusing the special privileges in terms of scholarships, or plum job opportunities in the international institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the various UN agencies.

Now that New Delhi has realised its true weight in terms of the US scheme of things, will it now show a little more of the strategic autonomy that it espouses. Will it look at the Afghanistan issue in a new light on the advent of the day of reckoning when the US forces will withdraw; or will it look at Iran in terms of how the two regional powers can together build a perfect symbiosis by which they can turn their jointness in strategic terms.Or even on the China issue, will Indian authorities and their pet policy intellectuals, stop talking about the Indo-Pacific as if it has found the formulation as a manna from heaven. Will New Delhi take the fortuitous development of the imminent arrival of INS Vikaramaditya, the new aircraft carrier, along with INS Viraat, occasionally take a closer at Diego Garcia?

And on the issue of Devyani Khobragade, since New Delhi has now escalated the issue, will it do some contingency planning in terms of the personnel at the American embassy? Having said that, one has to keep in mind, not having the US on India’s side today may not actually be a great loss. Provided of course, the Indian government invests more and more in the BRICS, in Russia-China-India axis.
In other words, India needs to harness its anger and channelise it in a way that follows the pathway of its ‘strategic autonomy’ in its decision-making.

The author is a senior journalist
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