US is reminding the world yet again, the old foreign policy adage - there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests. And in true US style, roughing up a friend in the name of the law is the order of the day.
To folks not aware, let me recap: Devyani Khobragade is a consular/diplomatic officer attached to Indian consulate in New York. She is a career officer - Indian Foreign Service (IFS) of the 1999 batch (over 300,000 folks appear for yearly exams and 120 are selected for IAS and 20+ for IFS! - that's for a different day!). She receives $4,500 as monthly salary/stipend in US. She arranged for a nanny from India - Sangeetha Richard last year. Without going into the merits of the dispute between Sangeetha Richard and Devyani, i want to focus on the larger damage to US-India relationship
Step 1: Devyani lodges formal complaint to US State Department after Sangeetha flees. After the State department acknowledges the initial complaint and assuring that Sangeetha will be traced and deported in 30 days, the state department goes back on its words. Instead they quietly change to story to human trafficking and avoid giving any transparency to Indian consulate/embassy on their actions. Why not be open & honest with the Indian embassy about the charges and conduct the whole affair in a transparent manner?
Step 2: State Department OKs arrest of the diplomat and following standard arrest procedure - violation of Vienna convention rules. State Department forgets that she has UN accredition and arresting her was in violation of diplomatic rules. Even without UN accredition, Devyani wasn't supposed to be arrested unless the offense was of 'grave crime'. Is wage dispute a 'grave crime' that warranted an arrest?
Step 3: Why arrest Devyani in her kid's school (in front of children or not is not clear!)? Why humiliate? This is the same nation that let killers go back to their homes after invoking 'stand your ground'? Why not have Devyani report to the Police Station? Why not be transparent in the arrest process?
Step 4: Why strip-search? How do US consular employees like being strip searched in a different nation? Why this "my way or the highway" mentality? This is the step where US lost a lot of goodwill with Indians? There is another Indian diplomat with a case in US courts against her live-in maid. Did anyone in India care? Nope. That's because law took its course & the person wasn't humiliated.
Step 5: Why transport Sangeetha's husband and family to US before Devyani's arrest and in violation of Indian law? Does US think that only in US, laws work?
US stands to lose a lot in this fight. This isn't about protecting Devyani. Lord knows that she has enough skeletons in the closet. India views this as the way US treats its 'friends'. Why US throws rule book at India, please dont expect any better from India. No more immunity from Airport TSA checks in India; no more zero-import taxes on liquor and food (US expats in Delhi are going to be hit hard!); no more operating private clubs in embassy campus; no more concessions on taxes; auditing of school activities and salaries of Indian employees in US consulate run schools. If this is childish, India didn't start with the rule book approach.
What could have been a simple expulsion and a private citizen's law case has turned into a diplomatic row and fiasco. In 30 days, the efforts of thousands of Indian and US citizens over the last 2 decades have been wasted by no more than 10 folks and their shortsighted behavior.
US has to learn how to be good friends; India has to learn not to emotional and stop bending backwards in accommodating diplomats.