India initiates retaliatory steps against US diplomats
India set in motion an array of retaliatory steps against U.S. diplomats in the absence of contriteness over maltreatment of an Indian diplomat in New York last week.
The government asked all U.S. consular officers to turn in their identity cards and the entire American diplomatic corps their airport passes while senior Congress leaders snubbed a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation for the second straight day by refusing to meet them.
The government sought to turn the screws further by ordering Delhi Police to remove concrete barricades on public land and roads around the U.S. Embassy, sought salary details and bank accountsof all Indian staff employed at the missions and stopped all import clearances for the U.S. Embassy, especially for liquor.
The government’s action was backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party which urged the Centre to “match each and every step of the U.S., to take serious action in this matter to establish the Indian sovereignty and prestige of its diplomatic community.” Talking to newspersons, BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad also took a dig at the government by saying U.S. actions do “not accord to the level of friendship that the Indian government claims to have with the U.S.”
“We will deal with them exactly the same way they are dealing with us. Not anything more, not anything less. While the U.S. doesn’t provide many courtesies to our diplomats, we go out of the way not to withhold those facilities.
“If they are downgrading what we are entitled to as diplomats, they will also get the same treatment. This way we will both be going strictly by the rules,” said an Indian diplomat while encapsulating the method behind the day’s activity.
“We have put in motion what we believe is an effective way to address this issue, protect her dignity. We have communicated the essence we feel in diplomatic terms and also due to the human element,” said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
After Lok Sabha Speaker Meera Kumar refused to meet the five U.S. Congressmen on Monday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde declined to meet them on Tuesday morning in protest against handcuffing and strip search of the diplomat Devyani Khobragade over a contractual issue with her help.
National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon also did not meet the Congressmen on Monday and termed the treatment to the diplomat as “despicable and barbaric”.
These “reciprocal steps” would “convey a clear message that this kind of treatment of a diplomat is unacceptable,” said government sources handling the dispute. South Block has already hinted at several options such as examining the salary structures of Indian employees in U.S. missions for discrepancies such as defaults on social security payments.
If the U.S. is still not contrite and refuses to arrive at “creative solutions”, the government might closely examine whether American diplomats are adhering to the spirit of each Indian law. As a senior Indian diplomat told The Hindu, “If you monetise the facilities we give to our home-workers, it adds to a decent sum. There is absolutely no hint of exploitation.”
The U.S. should accommodate that aspect, otherwise “we also know who all have brought in their gay partners and on what grounds they were given visas though there is a law against it in India. We can’t talk about it because this law is controversial and outdated but if the U.S. wants to go to this extent, then this law and several other options are there,” said the official. Former External Affairs Minister and BJP leaders Yashwant Sinha also made the point, calling on the government to expel all gay partners of U.S. diplomats.
The directive asking all U.S. consular officers posted in the country to turn in their identity cardsmeans the government is trying to restore parity with its diplomats posted as consular officers in the U.S. Dr. Devyani Khobragade is also a consular officer and under U.S. laws, this post does not entitle them to full privileges, a sore issue with India which has been raised several times but not very forcefully, said another senior diplomat.
Washington believes that as per the Vienna Convention the Indian Deputy Consul General is immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts only for her consular functions.
Dr. Devyani Khobragade was arrested last Thursday while she was dropping her daughter to school, handcuffed in public and later in the day released on a $2,50,000 unsecured bond. Following a complaint, the diplomat has been charged with accommodating false information about wages to be paid to her home-worker.
Diplomat’s father meets Shinde
Dr. Devyani Khobragade’s father on Tuesday met Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde who said the needful will be done to provide justice to her.
“Yes, he met me. He told me everything about the incident. Immediately, I have spoken to the concerned people for action. She will get justice,” Mr. Shinde told reporters in New Delhi.
The Home Minister was speaking after Uttam Khobragade met him seeking his help for justice to her.
Mr. Shinde is a former Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Mr. Uttam Khobragade is a retired official of the Maharashtra government.
Later, Mr. Uttam Khobragade said the Home Minister assured him government’s full support to Dr. Devyani Khobragade, a 1999 batch IFS officer.
He said the Union Home Minister told him that the government was with the family and the IFS officer has not done anything to be treated like that.
“What was done was absolutely atrocious and she was discharging government duty,” Mr. Uttam Khobragade said.
Mr. Uttam Khobragade said when Dr. Devyani Khobragade was arrested, she should have been treated with proper dignity.