Diplomatic circles in India were sent into a tizzy after the arrest of Indian Deputy Consul General, Devyani Khobragade in New York. She was charged with one count of visa fraud and one count of making false statements. The issue is related to the A-3 visa application that she submitted for an Indian national who served as a babysitter and housekeeper at her residence in New York. According to the allegations the worker ended up working more hours and getting paid less than what was mentioned in the visa application. She was produced before a magistrate and later released on a bond of USD 250,000 after she pleaded not guilty.
It seems the action against Khobragade was taken on the basis of allegations raised by her former domestic assistant, Sangeeta Richard who is absconding since June this year. A case against her is going on in Delhi high court and a restraining order issued to prevent Richard from starting any proceedings against Khobragade outside India on the basis of her terms of employment.The US government had been informed of the court order to locate Richard and felicitate her arrest as per provisions of the arrest warrant issued by Delhi court. An action despite this shows complete disregard by American authorities of the Indian court order.
Its important to note Khobragade was serving as the acting Consul general at the time of her arrest. She has previously been posted in Germany, Italy and Pakistan. She was arrested handcuffed and taken into custody while dropping her daughter to school. While the Indian embassy has conveyed its strong concern, diplomats posted there say it was unprecedented and inappropriate for a diplomat to be arrested on such frivolous charge.
Unprecedented indeed ! Diplomats are protected under Vienna convention and enjoy immunity from arrest in their host country. Diplomats in past have evaded arrest despite serious crimes like Murder, manslaughter, torture and espionage which is treated as an act of war. The arrest and handcuffing of Indian diplomat, given the rules of Vienna convention, seems unjust and sinister. This is not just US enforcing its laws. The diplomat could have been summoned and questioned but the very public arrest and humiliation hints at a message US is trying to convey. Given the engagements diplomats have on a daily basis, they need to rely on hired helps. Diplomats allege, they’re paid salaries as per Indian rates and it’s not possible for them to pay salaries to domestic helps at US rates as it would then be higher than their own salary. At best this case is about an Indian diplomat paying a domestic help as per Indian rates and not a case of ill treatment or torture as it is made out to be.
The arrest was made after charges were announced against her by US attorney for southern district of New York, Preet Bharara. Like Bobby Jindal, Governor of Louisiana, Preet belongs to a generation of Indian origin American achievers who have attained high office and nurture political ambitions. The arrest ordered by a person like him wouldn’t antagonize the Indian community. On the contrary, a strict action against a high ranking Indian official is only going to cement his American credentials and win acceptability among communities that see him as an Indian achiever only. Of course arresting a senior diplomat cannot just be a matter of attorney general’s office and it must have had nod from higher ups. Such actions indicate diplomatic maneuvers taking an ugly turn. Something between relations of two country that is not right.
When India decided to award the USD 11Bn contract for fighter jets to Rafael, France, US responded at diplomat level. US ambassador Timothy Roemer, resigned and his post was deliberately kept vacant for eight months which was unprecedented. We all know US plays a big role behind the scenes in Indo Pak game, business policies and foreign relations. Using all sorts of pressure tactics, they have in past forced India to toe their line. So i wouldn’t be a surprise if this was yet another ploy. Maybe this is just a test to see India’s response, to see how cohesive and firm India can be. Maybe this is just a preparation for something yet to come. Such domestic help issues are not uncommon in Indian diplomatic circles. What could be the reason to target a women diplomat with handcuffing, strip search, cavity search and lock up with criminals? For one, it is to amplify the humiliation of Indian Government. Secondly, Devyani was named in Adarsh Society scam. Given the public mood in India against corruption, US might have hoped the public reaction in India might not be sympathetic towards Devyani. It has been confirmed that Bharara’s office arranged for the Domestic help’s family to travel to US two days before the arrest. Spending so much public money and effort on his case shows the administration’s determination to make an example out of the Indian diplomat.
This suggestion may not be without a reason. The actions of the maid do raise some questions. Prior to joining Devyani, the maid was working at a US diplomat’s house in Delhi. She seemed to have developed some contacts within US embassy during that time. Within seven months of coming to US with Devyani, the lady mysteriously went missing, only to call the diplomat later asking for compensation, a new passport and assistance in getting a new job. Interestingly Devyani’s repeated attempt at getting a missing persons report with NYPD were denied. There are insinuations made in certain quarters that the maid may have been a plant by US authorities to spy on Devyani. A complaint by Devyani’s husband accuses her of stealing valuables and documents. Given the extraordinary length US authorities went to hide and protect the maid and evacuate her family just before the arrest, seems there’s a lot to this story than it looks.
The arrest has come at a time when the UPA government in India is at its weakest after its debacle in recent assembly polls and may lack the strength and will to react. This may also be a pressure tactic by US to nudge India into the direction they want on certain issues. The Afgan withdrawal maybe. As the drama unfolds, the situation will get clearer in coming days, however to see a high ranking Indian diplomat handcuffed is a major embarrassment for the Indian government. I can only speculate how a government led by Modi at center would have reacted?