x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

India’s anger over diplomat arrest unlikely to damage long-term ties with US

The outcry over the alleged treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade has obscured the serious charges levelled against her. Analysis by Samanth Subramanian

NEW DELHI // Over the last two days, the arrest of a junior Indian diplomat in the United States has exploded into a fierce international spat.

India’s anger at the treatment of Devyani Khobragade has been kneejerk and reactive, but it is unlikely to damage long-term ties between the two countries.

Ms Khobragade, a deputy consul general in New York, was arrested last week outside her children’s school. In an email she sent to her colleagues after being released on US$250,000 bail (Dh918,273), she

claimed she was handcuffed, strip-searched, and confined with “common criminals and drug addicts … despite my incessant assertions of immunity”.

The outcry over the alleged treatment meted out to Ms Khobragade has obscured the serious charges levelled against her. She has been accused of fraudulently obtaining a work visa for her housekeeper, whom she brought over from India and kept as a “virtual slave”, paying her less than US$3 per hour, according to prosecutors.

The prosecutor in the case, Preet Bharara, a US attorney for the southern district of New York, who is of Indian origin and who brought these charges against Ms Khobragade said in a statement “she clearly tried to evade US law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers.”

Although there is some justification for dissatisfaction over the way Ms Khobragade’s case was handled, India’s response has been seen as over the top, even within the country.

Some of the privileges of American diplomats in India have been frozen, and security barricades near the US embassy in New Delhi were removed. The embassy’s permission to import liquor was also revoked.

On social media and in newspaper editorials, these moves by the Indian government were decried as petty and as smacking of desperation.

A national election is imminent in India, and the government – a coalition led by the Congress party – is predicted to fare poorly.

Its track record over the last four-and-a-half years has been stained by corruption scandals, economic decline and ineptitude.

The government is accused of only reacting to public outrage, as the case of Ms Khobragade appears to illustrate.

In another recent incident, when no public outrage emerged over Togo’s arrest of two Indian sailors over charges of aiding sea pirates, the Indian government worked through the standard channels to secure their release.

Despite the frictions over the arrest of Ms Khobragade, however, the larger relationship between the US and India is unlikely to suffer.

The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, personally telephoned India’s national security advisor Shivshankar Menon to express his regret over

the incident. The US is aware of the need to maintain warm ties with India, the biggest democracy in a volatile region.

India too would be unwise to allow this incident to sour ties permanently.

Pointing out that American troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan next year, Rajesh Rajagopalan, a political scientist, wrote in the Economic Times: “Ensuring Indian interests in Afghanistan may be easier in coordination with Washington than by working at cross-purposes”.

“It is important that both Washington and New Delhi ensure that this row does not affect the strategic relationship that the two countries hope to build.”