India Abroad January 10, 2014 A9 SPECIAL/DIPLOMATIC STANDOFF
interests were more at play.
Some of these leaders said that
a conciliatory call from Obama
— who had described the US-India relationship as the ‘most
defining partnership of the
21stcentury’ and had been
briefed of the Khobragade situation, which was being followed
closely by the National Security
Council at the White House —
to Indian Prime Minister Dr
Manmohan Singh could have
had a calming effect.
Obama could have spoken of
the commitment toward this
relationship even as the case
goes through the legal process,
without leaving all of the administration’s responses to State
Dr Singh had called Dr
Khobragade’s arrest and strip-search ‘deplorable’ and surely if
Obama respected Dr Singh as
much as he said he did, the leaders said, he could have called
and expressed some ‘regret’
regarding how the arrest was
carried out by US marshals, who
definitely needed a crash course
on cultural sensitivity 101.
While some could argue that this would be going too
far, these leaders argued that this was not necessarily a
case of a President infusing himself into a subjudice
case, but simply responding to the hurt felt by an entire
nation that was deemed a close friend and ally.
While Monday-morning quarterbacking is not what
it needed at this time, there was no denying that there is
enough blame to go around on both sides.
According to officials on both sides, they never saw
this coming. As exclusively reported by India Abroad
(December 27, 2013), from Kerry down to Burns,
Sherman, Biswal had no clue that something like this
was brewing and that at the time Kerry and other senior
US officials were meeting Indian Foreign Secretary
Sujatha Singh, a magistrate was signing off on a warrant
for US marshals to arrest Khobragade.
The irony was that Burns and Biswal had persuaded
Kerry to drop in on the meeting and have a dialogue
with Sujatha Singh to demonstrate that Washington’s
commitment at the highest levels toward this relationship would continue to move forward during his tenure
too, despite a growing perception among some experts
that the relationship had plateaued, or was even comatose.
Meanwhile, India’s knee-jerk reaction of removing
security barriers outside the US embassy in New Delhi
was awful and precluded any galvanizing of sympathy
among US lawmakers, both in the House and Senate.
They have been largely silent, including members of
the India Caucus, when one would have expected them
to cry foul on how an Indian diplomat was treated,
notwithstanding the charges.
It was this particular action that had concerned these
lawmakers deeply, Congressional sources said, since
there was a permeating paranoia after the attack on the
US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The only two lawmakers who made any comment on
situation were Indian-American lawmaker Dr Ami Bera
and the only Hindu American lawmaker in the US
Congress Tulsi Gabbard. They were both scrupulously
cautious, and simply expressed the hope that this would
not impact the US-India relationship adversely.
In terms of mistakes being made, interestingly former
Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao in an op-
ed in the Asian Age wrote, ‘With the benefit of hindsight,
a plethora of wise words surrounds us on how the
Khobragade case should have been handled by the gov-
ernment — our embassy included — and how, once the
‘While this seems to be an easily administered solu-
tion,’ Rao noted, ‘it was not seen as necessary at the time
of the advent of the case. Based on the previous
instances of former consul general Prabhu Dayal, and
consul Neena Malhotra, there was enough to suggest
that our officers were the target of a well-orchestrated
campaign that involved NGOs, anti-trafficking lawyers
and the domestic assistants of these officers to extract
maximum concessions from the latter and obtain immi-
gration for the domestic assistants concerned.’
She noted that Dr Khobragade ‘had just arrived’ in the
US a few months prior to the case and had young chil-
dren who were still adjusting to life in New York and,
that her spouse was also based permanently in the US.
Sending her back to India unless she sought it — which
Acknowledging that ‘it was never anticipated that the
case would assume ramifications that would be different
from the Prabhu Dayal and Neena Malhotra cases,’ she
added, ‘In the case of Ms Khobragade, the government
justifiably took the stand that the case should be fought,
that there was every reason to dispute the allegations
and to resist, rightly, unfair and extortionist demands
being made by her domestic assistant, Sangeeta
Richards. So we took specific steps after legal vetting, to
defend our officer against the steps being taken under
US law, because we felt the action by the Americans was
disproportionate and unreasonable.’
But then, well aware of the precedents with Dayal and
Malhotra, was it prudent to have decided to play Truth
of Dare? Particularly when one considers that unlike the
civil complaints against them — and also the fact that
even in those cases millions of dollars were paid out by
the Indian taxpayer — a criminal complaint had been
levied against Dr Khobragade.
The horse has now left the barn so to speak and the
entire US-India relationship stands compromised.
I believe the need of the hour is some high-level diplomatic intervention — even as the case goes through the
judicial process — to expeditiously retrieve the relationship from the current situation before the anger and bitterness gets so embedded in the Indian psyche and precipitates an American intransigence that dispelling
future mistrust could take decades.
For those of us, who have been following this relationship from the Cold War days and watched in amazement
the exponential transformation of the current crisis it is
not just saddening but a difficult story to cover and
ensure that one strikes a balance between both sides. It
is so, despite whatever cynics may about the media relishing such controversies.
It’s about time that President Obama, notwithstanding
his preoccupation with salvaging Obamacare and
endearing himself to a base that’s disappointed with him
for unkept promises, shows that he’s not going to let the
carefully nurtured US-India relationship go off the rails.
It is also time for New Delhi, in the best traditions of
its diplomacy, culture and heritage, to show that India
can take the high road despite the degree of unwanted
and avoidable callousness shown one of its diplomats.
Aziz Haniffa is Editor, India Abroad.
The time to heal the mortal blow is now
Some Indian-American community leaders have said that a
conciliatory call from President Barack Obama to Indian Prime
Minister Dr Manmohan Singh — even as the Khobragade case goes
through the judicial process — could have had a calming effect.