Diplomacy in tatters

Look at what is going on between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest democracy.

The U.S. and India were never close friends for more than 5 decades after India’s independence from British rule. Even today, the relationship is at best characterized as an uneasy one with rough edges surrounding attempts at higher level of diplomatic and military cooperation.

India never aligned itself with the U.S. on global policies, and never agreed with many of the U.S. laws and regulations, including trade regulations. India was considered as the leader of the non-aligned movement, albeit being closely aligned with the U.S.S.R.

The U.S. always looked askance at India till a few years ago, as a country which always preferred to differ with U.S. stand on most global issues.

So, it does not come as a major surprise to anyone that at the slightest pretext, the relationship could fall into an abyss. What surprises most is that the pretext could be as unimportant as a case lodged by a house worker against an Indian Consular Officer in New York. Both countries seem to have given short shrift to diplomacy, and appear prepared to damage their long term ties in favour of a small, rather inconsequential matter, which could have easily been resolved by negotiations.

Let me first address the errors in judgement on the part of the U.S. and its callousness when it came to making some misinformed decisions. The U.S. State Department, for reasons best known only to it, decided to approve the prosecution of the Indian Consular Officer, Ms Devyani Khobragade, but there were two key issues – for one, it did not address the repeated communications on the matter from the Indian Embassy for over 3 months, especially the fact that an Indian Court has issued warrant for the missing house worker, who is an Indian Citizen. Secondly, and worse than the lack of communication, took upon itself to clandestinely ship out the family of the missing house worker from India to the U.S., obviously with close guidance and assistance provided by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. And within 2 days thereafter, the U.S. arrested Ms Devyani, thinking that they have a tight case and also they have provided for the house worker’s family to be safe, away from India. Further, a public arrest of a Consular Official and strip-searching her, etc., is never the same situation as that of a common criminal, the difference being that in diplomacy, things work differently.

India is not a banana republic and has its own activist judicial procedures and laws. The U.S. says that the family was threatened, but by whom ?

On the other hand, India took retaliatory measures, some of which are trivial – for instance, the removal of the traffic barricades in front of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi appears to be petty. The other actions it took seem all right but these privileges which are being withdrawn from the U.S. Embassy employees were not required in the first place, as the U.S. does not provide reciprocal ID Passes to get a priority treatment at the U.S. airports anyway. India has long been molly coddling foreign embassy personnel with no need. So, its actions now seem to be overblown. Further, India need not have issued passports to the family members of the house worker, and should have become suspicious if the allegation of the U.S. that India is threatening these family members is true. But very obviously, that was not the case. India happily issued the passports, and let the family members pass through Delhi Airport without any questioning. Further, it had ample chance to bring back Ms Devyani, but like most things in India, there is no action, only useless talk and invalid assumptions.

Now that these things have transpired, only one thing remains on the table.

Are both countries prepared to sacrifice their long term interests for such a seemingly insignificant case ?


Vijay Srinivasan
21st December 2013


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