It is now a question of when, not if, the United States throws in the towel in the long and ugly Indo-US diplomatic spat involving Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, and withdraw all criminal cases against her. The US will have to eat crow over the Devyani affair, though it may or may not apologise for the incident. But that is not so material. However, it will be in long term national interests of India if the US takes a few months in closing all cases against Devyani. Stumped! Here is the explanation. The US will have to eat crow over the Devyani affair, though it may or may not apologise for the incident. PTI Two points have been made here at the outset: (i) that it is an open and shut case that India and Devyani will win the legal battle in the US; and (ii) that it will be in long term Indian interest if the “closure” of the Devyani case were to formally drag on a few months.
These twin arguments derive strength from the chance discovery, and a belated discovery, that Devyani was indeed “accredited” to the Permanent Mission of India (PMI) in New York as early as 26 August 2013 and thus entitled to full diplomatic immunity, more than hundred days before she was arrested on 12 December and incarcerated. On 26 December, the Ministry of External Affairs came up with a belated revelation that Devyani was indeed accredited as an “advisor” to the PMI with full diplomatic immunity with effect from 26 August 2013. Under the "Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations" Article 4 Section 11A specifies “Immunities from personal arrest or detention and from the seizure of their personal baggage” of all representatives of members to the United Nations. Section 16 of the same Article specifies that the expression “Representative” shall be deemed to include all Delegates, Deputy Delegates, Advisors, Technical Experts and Secretaries of delegations. Her arrest, therefore on 12 December, was contrary to her status on that date. This explains why the US has already initiated an internal probe into the Devyani case while acknowledging mistakes in the episode.
In a way, the US ambassador in India Nancy Powell has already expressed ‘regrets’. She said that she joins "Secretary Kerry in expressing our regret for the circumstances of the consular officer's arrest, but we believe that we can look forward to continuing to expand our bilateral relations." But this is too little, too late and not just enough. India should exploit the Devyani incident to the hilt to ensure that complete reciprocity is maintained (something which has never been in place as the American diplomats in India have always been more equal than others). This brings us to the second point mentioned above: how it will be beneficial for India if the formal “closure” in the Devyani case were to take a few more months, which it will. Thanks to the Devyani incident, we have come to know several things. The first thing is that the American diplomats in India have routinely been enjoying all sorts of privileges without reciprocating these to the Indian diplomats in the US. This has been going on for years and no government in New Delhi ever dared to question this unequal diplomatic practice. This may change forever, and it should, after the Devyani incident has blown the lid off this diplomatic apartheid. Two, the US must understand that it has to take India as seriously as it takes China and Russia.
The Americans are known to handle China and Russia with kid gloves mainly because it knows that if Washington were to do anything outrageous with Beijing and Moscow the retaliation will be fast and furious. As per the World Bank-IMF projections, India will be Number Three economy in the world in just 15 years, relegating Japan to the fourth spot. Even now, India is ranked Number Eleven, with Canada managing to have nudged past India for the tenth spot. This economic reality should be reflected in the international politics and diplomacy too. India can do this and drive the point home to the Americans in the coming weeks. New Delhi has already directed the American embassy in New Delhi to submit all relevant details of the salaries being given to all employees in American diplomatic missions in India. The deadline for furnishing this information was 23 December. The Americans have sought more time in submitting the data as many American diplomats serving in India are on vacation at this point of time. India needs to ensure compliance from the Americans. The Americans are bound to be found breaking several Indian laws once this exercise is completed. For example, the manner in which the family of Devyani’s maid Sangeeta Richard was “evacuated” from India to the US will inevitably expose the Americans in breaking several Indian laws, including taxation laws.
It is extremely likely that the American staff in Indian diplomatic missions, particularly some semi-skilled Indian staff, would be getting the wages which are well below those prescribed under India's Minimum Wages Act. Already, it has come to light that an Indian Visa Officer gets a salary of around Rs 17,000 per month as against about Rs 1.10 Lakh for an American holding similar position and a particular Indian security guard has been hired for a lowly sum of Rs eight thousand per month for an eight-hour duty daily, which is way below the Minimum Wages Act. Clearly, the Americans have bitten much more than they could chew. Their bluff would be called soon.
Once the Americans are cornered and fall in their own trap, India must deliver its master stroke. India must demand the scalp of the US attorney for New York’s South District Preet Bahara, a native Indian from Ferozepur. Bharara is afflicted with the MATA syndrome – More American than the Americans. That is why it will be in India’s interest if the “closure” in the Devyani case lingers on for a few months. This is because once the US officially acknowledges its mistakes in the Devyani case and withdraws all cases against her, there will be immense pressure on the MEA from the Prime Minister’s Office to forgive and forget. Forgive is okay; but India must not forget the humiliation the Americans have heaped in the Devyani case. The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha
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