uess whose ‘integrity’ we are having ‘serious
doubts’ about these days.
Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat,
who in 2013 became the symbol of all that was
wrong with a weak-kneed UPA government
unable to stand up to the American bully.
Devyani Khobragade in whose defense India and the US
almost came to a diplomatic collision with a spate of petty
ping-pong retaliatory measures like the American Center
being told they could not screen films without a license and
withdrawing the US Embassy’s permit to import alcohol.
Devyani Khobragade whose treatment by the US so
incensed BJP leader Yashwant Sinha he said India should
retaliate by throwing the same-sex companions of gay and
lesbian American diplomats behind bars since the Indian
Supreme Court had just recriminalized gay sex.
Salman Khurshid, then the minister of external affairs
summoned the US ambassador to register India’s anger at
the ‘insult.’ Narendra Modi tweeted that he had ‘Refused to
meet the visiting US delegation in solidarity with our
nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplo-
The nation hath no fury like its lady diplomat scorned.
That was then.
Now Mr Modi’s own ministry of external affairs has said
in an affidavit in court that Khobragade’s acts raise ‘serious
doubts about her integrity.’
We’ve come a long way from 2014 when Yashwant Sinha
dismissed her return to India saying ‘(b)ringing
Khobragade is our defeat not a win because a case will be
on against her in the US. The US has decided. So we some-
how are bringing her back. It’s clear that there was no effect
of India’s arguments on the US.’
Khobragade had become a symbol of India’s loss of clout.
‘However much we condemn the undue harassment
meted out to our diplomat (Khobragade) on American soil,
it would not be enough,’ said Rajnath Singh, currently the
Indian Home Minister.
Elections were approaching and the sullied honor of the
Indian woman abroad was perfect to stoke some nationalistic outrage. Now the elections are over and Barack
Obama was the red-carpet guest at the Republic Day
parade and the government is trying to figure out how to
solve a problem like Devyani Khobragade.
Khobragade’s problem right now is that her children hold
American and Indian passports and she did not inform the
ministry about that. She insists she broke no rules. The
ministry has a different take.
‘Devyani willfully violated government rules and provi-
sions of various acts that bar holding of US passport and
Indian diplomatic passport for her daughters’ the ministry
told the Delhi high court according to the Hindustan
Times. They say she ‘willfully and blatantly violated the
Indian passport act.’
And for this we almost derailed India-US relations! Any
buyer’s remorse anywhere?
This does not mean the US government followed correct
protocol in its treatment of Devyani Khobragade when it
went after her for alleged underpayment of her maid. Or
the Indian government should not have protested. But the
chest-thumping outrage about ‘our’ Khobragade and the
studied silence about her (also Indian-origin) domestic
help was quite striking. As the Indian government has ‘seri-
ous doubts’ about her ‘integrity’ now, somewhere in an
office in New York, an attorney named Preet Bharara must
be feeling tempted to say ‘I told you so.’
Khobragade has had a rocky return to India. The US case
and a threat of extradition hangs over any foreign posting.
She was put on ‘compulsory wait’ in December 2014 for air-
ing her grievances to the media about an inquiry into her
daughter’s dual passports and reinstated in March 2015 as
the director of the states division.
At that time The Times of India had reported that foreign
secretary S Jaishankar felt that Khobragade was being
‘unnecessarily victimized’. It also reported that Khobragade
met with the PMO officials to discuss her case. And now
this latest twist in the Delhi court.
All of it goes to prove that Devyani Khobragade remains
as much a hot potato in India as she was in America.
While Khobragade tugged at the media’s heartstrings by
depicting herself as the pining mother separated from her
children, the passport affair suggests that she wanted to
really have the best of both worlds (or rather both pass-
ports). She has never explained why she didn’t just bring
her daughters with her when she returned to India.
Khobragade says it’s her ‘desire to keep the Indian passport’
for her children that has gotten her into all this trouble. But
let’s not be deluded — she’s not immune to the charms of
the American one as well.
When asked if she would give up her daughters’ US pass-
ports if the government asked her to do so, she told
Suhasini Haidar: ‘Well, so long as the government makes
arrangements for my children to travel to the US, where
their father and his family are based, why not.’
Sorry, earth to Khobragade: It’s not the government’s
problem that she is married to an American. It’s not the
government’s job to smooth out all the logistical problems
that can be caused thanks to the person you choose to
marry. As many aam aadmi binational couples realize
every day, it’s not the government’s responsibility to ensure
that their children get to spend vacations without any has-
sle with their American grandparents as well as their
Khobragade has been happy to use the media to build a
case for herself when she felt things were not moving the
way she wanted them to. Just around the time Narendra
Modi made his triumphant visit to the US, trying in effect
to dispel the bad memories of the Khobragate, she gave an
interview to Times Now complaining ‘Things haven’t
moved as much.’ but hoping ‘this government will take it up
positively.’ She used an interview with The Hindu to
remind the government that it needed to stand by the
assurances they gave her a year ago. She blamed her colleagues in the ‘competitive’ IFS who want ‘to set you back
by making insinuations and connotations’.
Khobragade was perfectly within her rights to protest
her innocence and complain about her treatment by US
law enforcement but nowhere was there any sense of her
ruing the international row that happened around her
though she told NDTV she was thankful to the country,
the government and the Indian Foreign Service for rallying behind her. Instead The Hindu mentions an email she
sent demanding her case be included in the political
agenda of Indo-US dialogue. That takes a sense of entitlement to another level well beyond feeling entitled to a
Clearly if the entire episode taught Devyani Khobragade
anything it was to reinforce for her the importance of being
And if it’s taught India anything, it’s that one should look
before leaping to knee-jerk nationalist chest-thumping.
India should absolutely defend the rights of its citizens and
diplomats abroad, but it needs to pick those symbols of
national pride a little more carefully. n
This article first appeared on Firstpost.com. Reprinted with Sandip Roy’s kind permission.
PICK SYMBOLS OF NATIONAL PRIDE CAREFULLY
Sandip Roy points out the
truth about what the
(mis)adventures of Devyani
Khobragade taught India.
POINT OF VIEW M2 THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad August 7, 2015
CAUSE: Left, Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, in New Delhi, January 11, 2014, after her return to India following her arrest in the United States. AND EFFECT: Right, security barriers in front of the US embassy in New Delhi are removed December 17, 2013, apparently in retaliation for Devyani Khobragade ‘s arrest.
REUTERS ADNAN ABIDI/REU TERS