Anger in India over Indian diplomat's arrest in US
India and the USA have shared a love hate relationship since 1947, when India became free. Initially with Nehru at the helm of affairs in India, the US administration equated India with the Soviet bloc. Relations touched a new low during the 1971 war and creation of Bangladesh, when President Richard Nixon showed a marked tilt towards Pakistan and even threatened India with the 7th fleet.
The Common Enemy China
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the geo-political situation changed and India became closer to the USA. Both nations were wary of a common enemy in China. Relations began to improve including a strategic partnership began to emerge. This was disrupted last week when the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade was arrested by the New York police on two counts of visa fraud and violation of the minimum wages as stipulated under US law to her maid.
Arrest and Treatment of Indian Diplomat
From all accounts Devyani was strip-searched after her arrest in New York. She was also hand cuffed when she had gone to drop her children in school. Devyani was the deputy Indian consul general in New York. Devyani pleaded that she had diplomatic immunity, but the US countered by saying she only had diplomatic immunity in the discharge of her consular duties and as such this offence which carries a stiff prison term was not covered under ‘diplomatic immunity’.
Retialation and Further Developments
For long the US embassy and diplomatic personnel have enjoyed diplomatic immunity and special treatment in India, as the general feeling was that the USA was a special nation and their diplomats under threat, hence the special priviliges were essential.
The news of the arrest and the treatment of the Indian diplomat angered not only the entire Indian nation, but also incensed the Indian diplomatic cadre. It was like a raw nerve being touched and for once the Indian government hit back with reprisals such as removing security barriers around the US embassy.
The State Department sought to calm tensions by saying the arrest of Devyani Khobragade was an isolated case, and should not be allowed to damage the close ties between India and the United States, yet the damage seems to have been done. With election around the corner in 2014, the Congress led Indian government decided to show that they could not be brow beaten. A range of measures including asking the US consular officials to return the ID cards issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs that speed up travel into and through India have been implemented.
Conformation from the US Marshals service that Khobragade was treated like any person detained in the metropolis, further aggravated the Indian people and government. The Marshals confirmed the diplomat had been strip-searched and held within the general prisoner population in the Southern District of New York. The statement further confirmed that she was held in a cell with other female detainees. Reports suggest that there were many drug addicts in the cell with her. Though she was released the same day on a bond of $250,000, the damage had been done.I
Tit for Tat
The bland and matter of fact statements of the US marshals service further infuriated the Indian government and the diplomatic cadre. The Indian government decided to apply the same treatment to US embassy personnel. The identity cards of all diplomats and workers have been withdrawn and the special diplomatic privileges cancelled. In addition the salaries of all India staff working in the US embassy and school are being examined to check whether the wages act as applicable for Americans are violated and also whether income tax as per GOI regulations is paid.
The conflict has escalated and there seems no end in sight. The situation at present is that the charges against Devyani remain and the Indian government has withdrawn the special privileges of US embassy personnel in India as well as downgraded the security of the US missions.
There is a new government in power in Delhi now, but the USA has erred there as well as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was denied a US Visa for 6 years on flimsy grounds. The strategic relationship is greatly strained and it will take a great effort on the part of Obama to heal it.
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