Rajeev Deshpande,TNN | Jan 12, 2014
Devyani Khobragade row shows India fell off Obama's map
Diplomat Devyani Khobragade at South Block in New Delhi on Saturday.
NEW DELHI: The bitterness in India-US ties over the Devyani Khobragade case is likely to linger as India squares up to the Obama administration's indifference to a rusting "strategic partnership", glaringly exposed by the diplomat's humiliation.
Khobragade's on street arrest, the indignities she was subjected to in custody and her return amid heightened acrimony strongly point to the much-hailed partnership's decline with US not caring to mask its disinterest.
The vehemence of India's response possibly surprised US, but India could hardly have done otherwise as the deliberation with which the US diplomatic security service acted almost suggests she was being made an example of.
Claims that authorities merely followed the book seem unconvincing as the view grows that US increasingly sees ties with India in transactional terms, with a crib list over market access and stalled reforms obscuring a larger confluence of interests.
US prosecutor Preet Bharara's suggestion that a "legal process was started in India against the victim, attempting to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India" revealed a view of the Indian system otherwise hailed as a democratic marvel. His wonderment at why outrage in India ignored the "victim" in the case only made matters worse.
The disdain, bordering on insolence, with which US not only shunned subtler ways of dealing with the case filed by Khobragade's former maid but spirited away her family - all Indian citizens - point to a high degree of premeditation.
Despite the quibbling over the scope of consular immunity as against diplomatic immunity, US manuals themselves make it quite plain that handcuffing, leave alone a strip search, is usually precluded in such cases.
The drift in ties has seen the very American business interests like Westinghouse and General Electric that rooted for India bemoaning restricted access and ensuring their woes figure on the agenda of US leaders meeting Indian counterparts.
A deadening of sensitivities has meant that mid-level officers dealing with a case like Khobragade did not think that a higher call is needed as the events could impact relations with an important partner in south Asia.
The all too visible downgrade in priority accorded to India can only expose New Delhi to ridicule in Islamabad and Beijing, given the top billing accorded to the perceived synergy between the two large democracies.
Despite the congealing ties, the nonchalance with which US treated the fallout of the case has not been fully explained, though some quarters see it as a reflection of just how far off India has fallen off the map for the Obama White House.
The audacious disregard of India's legal system and extraction of the maid's family in order to preempt anticipated reprisals against Khobragade's impending arrest points to a return to an older, and what was till recently was felt to be an obsolete, formulation of estranged democracies.