- Posted December 20, 2013 by
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Khobragade affair: Diplomatic Mess or Shadow Boxing and charades
Devyani Khobragade, an Indian diplomat was arrested rudely in front of her daughter’s school in New York, handcuffed, subjected to a strip search (without touching) and cavity search (most likely involving touching). Worse, she was treated on par with drug addicts in New York. This medical Doctor turned foreign service diplomat was barely in US for a few months representing India.
It took $250,000 bond to get her out. That’s a whopping Rs1,55,00,000 arranged to keep her out of jail, temporarily. The charges against her are Visa fraud and paying her maid lesser than the legally stipulated minimum wages.
This article is not to discuss exactly how she treated her maid (who is absconding now), or whether Devyani is guilty. This is also not to talk about her caste, possible racial discrimination, her gender, or any other personal background. This purpose of this article is to speculate why such harsh treatment was meted out to an Indian diplomat, and possibly to wonder why India is in this terrible ‘spineless state’ status in the eyes of the world.
1) Many screaming #DevyaniHumiliated on Twitter now were the ones celebrating when a democratically elected Indian Chief Minister Narendra Modi didn’t get US Visa. This included many from the UPA Government. If an outrage was warranted, that was the moment. Instead, the same governing party’s members celebrated at various occasions, taking potshots at Modi without realising that they were making fools of themselves in the eyes of the world. Petty local politics is one thing, but not standing up for your country’s legislator in international light is a sorry sight.
2) The UPA Government, that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated, was the same one which sponsored the Wharton event in USA, even after Wharton snubbed an Indian Chief Minister after initially inviting him. How could a Government go ahead sponsoring a foreign event when the hosts did not allow an elected Chief Minister of your country? You should have woken up then at least, leaving aside your vicious political hatred. Needless to say this was again a case involving Narendra Modi, hated by the ruling alliance’s members in India.
3) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated right now was the same one which did not intervene when Baba Ramdev was humiliated at London airport. The renowned Yoga guru who has tens of crores of admirers and followers in India, was ill treated for over seven hours. Did the External Affairs Minister act swiftly? Did anyone from the Government even make a courtesy call to the Yoga guru to find out more? Some Indian media houses even went to the extent of using ‘London mein lafda yog’ kind of demeaning titles to news stories when Ramdev was in trouble. Just because this Yoga guru had targeted Sonia Gandhi during his protests against black money, he was allowed to be humiliated?
4) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated was the same which almost let off killer Italian marines, until the Supreme Court intervened. If the court had not intervened, India could have lost custody of the murder accused forever.
5) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated was the same which did not retaliate when Group Captain Mohonto Panging was denied China visa. The reason for denial of Visa? He is from Arunachal Pradesh and in spite of being a senior Indian Air Force officer, China considerd his home State as its own. How did the UPA react? They sent the remaining staff to China and never took a hard stand to stop this insult to a senior IAF officer. This, after years of stapled visas to Indians from Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh by China. Where was your pride when this insult was meted out to the IAF?
6) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated was the same which did not retaliate when Lance Naik Hemraj’s head was chopped off by Pakistanis. Worse, even after a series of such atrocities on Indian fighters, the lame duck Prime Minister went ahead with his meeting with Pakistan counterparts. To make it even more shameful, it was reported that India’s Prime Minister was even dubbed “Dehati Aurat” (whining village woman) by the same Pakistani counterpart, which was quickly hushed up. Any country with pride will not only give a strong response, but also cancel such useless symbolic meetings when your jawan’s head was missing from the dead body, to the shock of his weeping wife. Interestingly, in spite of being hated so much by Congress, Narendra Modi of the BJP stood up for the Prime Minister during the “Dehati Aurat” episode, as well as the current Devyani episode. Something to learn from a true statesman!
7) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated is the same which ignored 140 Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lanka just this month. Where was the outrage? Aren’t these Indians?
8) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated is the same which has ignored 1400 Indians jailed by Saudi Arabia. Imagine how these 1400 would have been treated in a country like Saudi Arabia. Not just that, they have also deported and humiliated countless Indians this year. Where was the outrage?
9) The UPA Government that’s screaming #DevyaniHumiliated is the same has NO clue as to why 109 Indians are jailed by Italy. Sonia Gandhi’s country of birth won’t even tell the Indian Government why some of these people are even jailed. Such a shame for the world’s largest democracy!
India needs to show more diplomatic muscle: YES / NO
These are just a few examples to show that when India shows callous attitude towards Indians abroad getting into trouble, situations such as #DevyaniHumiliated are bound to happen. It’s the duty of the Government of India and the obligation of Indian media to help ALL Indians when they are in trouble abroad. Not just a privileged few like Shah Rukh Khan and Devyani Khobragade. I am not saying ignore SRK or Devyani. Treat all as Indians and give them confidence. Stand behind them. When you let Indians get humiliated by Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, USA, UK, Italy and many more, the world knows you are a pathetic soft power with no biting ability.
Remember, the world won’t respect those who don’t respect themselves. Devyani Khobragade, irrespective of what she did in US, is a classic case of UPA Government’s diplomatic failure.
Given the Maharashtrian flavour of the entire affair, it would be more appropriate, one supposes, if we were to label the current charade playing out in New York and Raisina Hill as a tamasha. However, I can vouchsafe from my childhood memories of watching tamasha performances in the typically Marathi parts of Bombay like Dadar or Parel, where our family friends would invite my parents, that the overall cocktail of boisterous humour and suggestive songs had much more dignity than the burlesque that we are seeing in the capital in the last few days.
Bearing in mind the other key element in the desi polity, one cannot but feel that it is also appropriate to view the recent events in Delhi through the Italian prism of the Commedia dell’arte, the theatre form which was founded entirely on the notion of extravagant emotions, however contrived they may be in reality. The principal characters in these shows were servants and masters and this is clearly reminiscent of the present situation in our hapless country.
To get back to the current shindigs, the following are the uncontested facts:
(1) An IFS officer of the 1999 batch, Devyani Khobragade (39), posted in the Indian Consulate General in New York, was arrested by US Marshals on charges of committing Federal offences.
(2) These offences relate to her allegedly filing false visa applications of her maid who was in her personal employment in New York. She was also accused of paying the maid a salary much lower than the statutory minimum level prescribed under US laws.
(3) The charges were levelled by Preet Bharara, the U.S. District Attorney for Manhattan, New York. Bharara, an Indian-origin American, is a Harvard law school graduate, and has successfully prosecuted many high-profile white- collar criminals, including Bernie Madoff, who carried on a billion-dollar scam for many years, and Rajat Gupta, a great favourite of the Delhi power circuit for decades. Therefore, any loose talk of American racism, in this instance, goes out of the window.
(4) As an Indian diplomat posted in the New York consulate, Khobragade is not covered by the Vienna Convention for Diplomatic officials, which provides complete immunity to diplomats of one country posted in another. The young lady falls under the purview of the Vienna Convention for Consular staff, where the immunity is much more restricted. Only acts done in pursuance of official duties and functions are protected under this treaty. There is definitely no immunity in the case of offences that Khobragade has been charged with.
Unfortunately, the desi pundits who have been pontificating on the idiot box, and also in Parliament and in the print media, are blissfully unaware of this major distinction between these two international treaties. It is also possible that they are aware of the legal scenario but are playing their usual games. In any case, they look like a bunch of demented Don Quixotes charging at imaginary targets.
(5) The young lady was arrested in front of her daughter’s school and then handcuffed before being taken to the local version of the lock-up. Inside the police precincts, she was strip-searched and subjected to other “indignities” according to her complaint to the Foreign Ministry in Delhi.
Now, we should remember (and this is hard to believe) that in one major area of criminal law and justice, we are actually ahead of the Americans. Our Supreme Court, very wisely and humanely, banned the use of handcuffs on accused persons, unless there is a definite security threat and very serious offences are involved.
The American criminal justice system, on the other hand, is much more robust and crude in these matters. Handcuffing of accused persons is routine and legal ; there is no distinction of major and minor crimes in Uncle Sam’s land. There is also the nauseating practice of a “perpetrator walk”, where the accused is made to march, handcuffed and all, in front of the public at the scene of the crime. Readers will remember that the former IMF managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, was made to go through this humiliating procedure on a number of occasions. And it must be pointed out the French government, including the Quai d’Orsay, the French Foreign Ministry, did not drive themselves into a frenzy on that issue.
As far as the other indignities suffered by her are concerned, the Americans have categorically stated that she only went though routine procedures that all arrested persons in that country are subjected to. In any case, the Indian government, not to mention great votaries of human rights like Mulayam Singh, should be reminded that we recently had a case of a convicted prisoner in UP’s Dasna jail who was branded on his back with a hot iron and one did not hear a whimper from the desi political establishment to condemn this horrendous brutality. More on this later.
However, what one should mention here at this stage itself is that the Americans are very egalitarian and class-neutral when it comes to their criminals or those who are accused but not convicted. Getting privileges like the ones our upper echelons obtain in the justice delivery system at the drop a hat are impossible. There would not be the ghost of a chance for an American counterpart of Sanjay Dutt to repeatedly get parole after being convicted of terrorism-related offences.
This entire episode brings out the glaring differences between the world’s oldest Republic and a moth-eaten zamindari structure that we label as the Indian republic. I will now come to the role that has been played by the Indian bureaucracy in this complete non-event that is now being touted as a major human rights issue.
The IFS, among all the national services, is definitely the coziest and most convenient life-time employment opportunity that this hapless country and its equally exploited tax-payers can offer. I can confidently state that every IFS officer rises to the rank of Ambassador by the time she or he reaches retirement. Never mind that His Excellency or Her Excellency is our “Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary” in Burkina-Faso or Somalia. This extraordinary upward mobility has distinct post-retirement advantages – all these retired flunkeys flaunt the title of “Ambassador” before their names and pirouette around in Delhi’s salon circles and talking shops. I have had to remind some of these characters that the only persons who are legally allowed to retain their ranks after retirement are members of the armed forces. I regret to say that these fellows don’t show the slightest dismay when their absurd self-aggrandisement is exposed. I have nightmares of other babus emulating the IFS lot and going around with titles like “Deputy Secretary” or “Under Secretary (Special Grade)” appended before their names.
But we digress. It is the character of the service that I was analysing. Whether it is the IFS A cadre (those who made it in the initial examination) or the IFS B cadre (referred to disdainfully by the former as “promotees”, an Indian-English word that is jarring and obnoxious), the entire bunch is usually out to lunch. You get the gist. It is only the good life in foreign lands at the taxpayer’s expense that this lot cares about. The result is that we have a bunch of under-performing and overpaid babus whose professed task is to represent our country’s interests but who do nothing of the sort. There are honourable exceptions, of course. It would violate the laws of probability if this had not been the case. But, here again, we should allow the figures to guide us.
How many of us during our travels in foreign lands have had occasion to seek the assistance of our diplomats for whatever problems or difficulties we have faced ? If we have had to go through this experience, without the benefit of the presence of someone we knew or were referred to, I would wager my last rupee that we have would have emerged sadder and wiser. Because, just inside the door from the main entrance where the tricolour proudly flies, is the stench of Indian babudom. From the top to the bottom, in every Indian diplomatic mission, all the talk you can hear is about the techniques of maximisation of personal benefits and privileges. Now, in Raisina Hill, this is par for the course and creates few ripples. In the great wide world outside our shores, these people are always under stringent scrutiny not only by their host country but also by the international community. And they care a fig.
To take young Khobragade’s case, she has already proved she has a tainted legal record. By applying for a flat in Mumbai’s “Aadarsh” complex and getting the flat allotted, she has, prima facie, committed an offence, because she was neither a military person nor a dependant of a military person. The crime would be more serious, if she had another residential property in the city, which has also been alleged. Clearly, a person like this is quite capable of signing papers showing a monthly salary of $4500 to her maid but actually paying her some $540 or so. She presumably thought that the American State Department was like the Maharashtra Registrar of Cooperatives and would just forget about the little discrepancy. Moreover, in New York, she did not have the benefit of her dear father’s protection and assistance.
This brings me to the crux of the whole issue. Did the great Bharat Sarkar react with any palpable indignation when Indian soldiers were murdered on the LOC and decapitated ? Did we have a squeak of protest from the Prime Minister who is now going ballistic? When Sarabjit Singh, the brave Indian prisoner, was murdered in a Pakistani jail, did we see the GOI reducing security around the Pakistani Embassy ? Or Shiv Shankar Menon harrumphing on the media ?
No, we did not. This is because the interests of the babus were not affected and the government had not been trounced in a series of state elections. The current high-voltage actions by Raisina Hill are nothing but bad drama. Yes, there are many things about the U.S. Government and about the great USA that we need to protest about. But this is not one of those issues or occasions. What we are now seeing is appalling theatre and shadow-boxing.