Restoring parity with tit-for tat

The extraordinary mistreatment of the Indian Deputy Consul-General (DCG) in New York City, now transferred to the Indian Mission at the United Nations to get full-immunity cover, Devyani Khobragade, is at once more and less than it has been made out to be. More, because if a diplomat of a friendly country can be handled so roughly, what does it say about the “strategic partnership” India and the United States are supposed to have? And, less because the DCG’s underpayment of wages to Indian domestic help is part of the larger unresolved issue of Indian servants accompanying Indian diplomats on postings in the US but is covered by an informal understanding the US State Department has with a whole bunch of Third World and even European countries, including India. It is an acknowledgement that along with the free room and board and medical expenses, the salary the Indian domestic help earns is virtually pocket money or savings which are not insubstantial, amounting to a windfall in rupees and a tidy monthly sum in US$. So, the enslavement talk is silly. But it is a welcome development that things have come to a boil. Now New Delhi and Washington can negotiate and formalize an agreement on reciprocal treatment of envoys. For reasons unknown, American diplomats posted to India have privileges their Indian counterparts do not enjoy — like unlimited import of liquor, foodstuffs, and consumer items stacked in embassy commissary. The Indian government has been a little too attentive to US demands for spatial security — an exclusive no-parking secure zone around the embassy, etc when the Indian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC — despite requesting an exclusive parking zone — has had the mortification of seeing such a car park it had previously sole access to now turned over for public use. And teachers in the American School don’t pay income tax for working here to the Indian exchequer. And most, ironically in the context of the Khobragade incident,Indian hired-help in the embassy and in the three consulates in Mumbai, Kolkatta and Hyderabad are paid meager salaries with few benefits. All this has come to an end and may be restored, hopefully, but only on a reciprocal basis. This equity was longtime coming.

The more significant thing is whether the Manmohan Singh regime will be satisfied with Secretary of State John Kerry expressing “regret” and Under-Secretary Wendy Sherman “remorse”. India should not accept anything less than an unconditional and open-ended apology from Washington. But going by the ambiguous response so far of Salman Khurshid, Minister for External Affairs, a closure on the basis of US regrets may happen. But it is unacceptable and the BJP will no doubt raise a ruckus should the Congress govt be satisfied with so little when the provocation has been so egregious and grave. May be an arrest of an American DCG — male or female — on the valid charge of underpaying Indian members of the consular staff, with attendant thorough “cavity searches” would be a better way to telegraph India’s intent and seriousness.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US.. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Restoring parity with tit-for tat

  1. Shetty says:

    There are many issues to be looked in this case:
    1. Why did Devyani file a case in Delhi? (Filing a case against a domestic help is unususual)
    2. Even more unusual is the order of the court restraining the domestice help from initiating
    proceedings against Devyani. (Never heard of such an order passed anywhere in India. I am
    an Advocate)
    3. Devyani Khobragades father Uttam Khobragade has been trying to get a ticket to contest
    elections. (So this huge media tamasha appears showUttam Khobragades political clout)
    4. A million women from the lowest social class work as maids in India. (A substantial number work
    in inumane conditions and on low wages. Some even are sexually exploited. Actor Shiney
    Ahujas case. See the tamasha that the PM and the political class make when a maid gets even
    with her employer. But not a word in support of the million domestic helps in India. What is the
    message that the masses are getting. Vote for the AAP!!!!)
    5. Devyani knew she was playing with the law. She got away in the Adarsh scam. Saw her father
    get away always. She thought she Did she could get away in America????

    SHE DESRVED WHAT SHE GOT. OUR POLITICAL LEADERSHP FHAS LOST TOUCH WITH THE MASSES.

  2. Comment by Shetty at sganeshprasad@hotmail.com to my email acct. reproduced here:

    There are many issues to be looked in this case:
    1. Why did Devyani file a case in Delhi? (Filing a case against a domestic help is unususual)
    2. Even more unusual is the order of the court restraining the domestice help from initiating
    proceedings against Devyani. (Never heard of such an order passed anywhere in India. I am
    an Advocate)
    3. Devyani Khobragades father Uttam Khobragade has been trying to get a ticket to contest
    elections. (So this huge media tamasha appears showUttam Khobragades political clout)
    4. A million women from the lowest social class work as maids in India. (A substantial number work
    in inumane conditions and on low wages. Some even are sexually exploited. Actor Shiney
    Ahujas case. See the tamasha that the PM and the political class make when a maid gets even
    with her employer. But not a word in support of the million domestic helps in India. What is the
    message that the masses are getting. Vote for the AAP!!!!)
    5. Devyani knew she was playing with the law. She got away in the Adarsh scam. Saw her father
    get away always. She thought she Did she could get away in America????

    SHE DESRVED WHAT SHE GOT. OUR POLITICAL LEADERSHP FHAS LOST TOUCH WITH THE MASSES.

    • It may be unfair to ascribe the situation Devyani Khobragade finds herself in to her father’s misdoings, and absolutely wrong to impose this aspect on India-US relations and in any way legitimate an indefensible American action.

  3. Guru says:

    Will restrict my comments solely on the Indo-US relations and will not even attempt to either demonise or glorify Devyani, as a person. What is important to focus on is the cavalier manner in which the US has treated an official ( while reserving comments on the merits of the case, per se) of India . All that matters in international relations is perception and it is no secret that the US perceives us to be a push over. Tragically, India seems to have done everything to prove them right. Hence, the move to have reciprocity (and as has been so correctly pointed out, not retaliatory) in our bilateral relations, though belated, is welcome. There is absolutely no reason as to why their consular staff should enjoy privileges that our people are denied in Washington. To drive home the point, not only must we not accept anything less than an apology but must prove that the shoe pinches by ensuring that any and every act committed by a US diplomat that is against the Indian law is persecuted in the true letter and spirit. ( A la what Ms Malhotra had attempted a few years ago when she denied visa to a gay companion of a US diplomat but which got quickly reversed in the high days of the Nuclear Deal). Some countries only understand the language of power and take decency and humility to be weakness.

  4. hemen parekh says:

    Bitter Truth ?

    A Sanskrit saying goes ,

    ” Do not speak untruth , even if sweet

    Do not speak sweet , if untrue

    Only speak what is both true and sweet

    Never speak bitter truth ”

    But when Kumar Vishwash says ,

    ” I will tell the bitter truth ” ,

    he expresses the anguish / suffering of , not only the people of Delhi but of entire India

    He is saying ,

    ” While offering unconditional support , Congress has no love lost for AAP

    Their single point agenda is to keep BJP out of power

    And it is no different with BJP ”

    What Congress and BJP seem to have failed to realize is ,

    ” AAP does not need anybody’s support

    People of Delhi have chosen to bypass them and have given AAP , a
    conditional support – based on conditions contained in AAP manifesto ”

    Despite such loud and clear message , Rahul Gandhi has failed to firmly tell Maharashtra CM , Prithviraj Chavan to accept Adarsh Scam Report and initiate actions against those found guilty of misusing their positions

    May be RaGa does not want the bitter truth to come out in the courts !

    So much for his trying to take credit for Lokpal Bill !

    Will Anna now demand, Maharashtra’s toothless Lok Ayukta to initiate proceedings against those allegedly involved in Adarsh Scam / Irrigation Scam / Sale-of-Sugar Mills scams ?

    Or

    By keeping quiet , will Anna enable another Kumar Vishwash to rise in Mumbai ?

    May be a Mayank Gandhi ( MaGa ) ?

    In 2014, will it be RaGa Vs NaMo ?

    Or , will it be , RaGa Vs MaGa ?

    * hemen parekh ( 21 Dec 2013 / Mumbai )

  5. Shiva says:

    Bharatji, little off-topic but this question has been lingering in my mind.

    Since nuclear exchange is almost ruled-out in any future Indo-China war, the outcomes of the war would be determined by conventional superiority in limited-duration, closely-fought, intense fighting along high altitude Himalayan terrain. Then why didn’t India pursue technology and infrastructure that would give a level-playing field (or hopefully an advantage) over china in this terrain such as –
    1. Light tanks that offer mobility in Himalayan mountains and platitudes of Aksai Chin (DRDO Light Tank project was terminated mid-way)
    2. Light artillery that can be moved easily in high altitude
    3. Light man-portable anti-aircraft missiles (Like Stinger) in large enough numbers to deter china
    4. Thousands of mountain sniper marksmen
    5. Explosive breaching of enemy mountain targets
    6. Air-Mountain warfare strategy and tactics.
    7. three moutnain corps to defend three sectors
    Apart from light helicopters, I am not aware of any indigenous DRDO project that focuses on technologies that help fight in Himalayan terrain. Even the Germans failed to dislodge Swiss from the Alpines. When will we be strong enough to deter China from repeating 1962 or enforcing our will along LAC?

    • You have mentioned precisely the sort of armament options for arsenal and capability structuring that the Indian Army should do but won’t because it is an industrial age army, based on heavy weapons systems (T-90s for the offensive Mountain Corps, etc.!) that seems incapable of digital transformation and future terrain-specific contingencies. What’s there to say except to stew in frustration?

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