Thursday, December 19, 2013

My two cents: Indian-American Diplomatic Row

To followers of news on India and American- Indians, the recent “diplomatic row” over the arrest of Devyani Khobragade, Indian diplomat from the consulate in New York is intriguing to say the least.

Most of us civilians hardly understand the role diplomats play in managing foreign relations other than the terms and titbits media occasionally throws at us during incidents like these. Perhaps the closest we come to personal interactions with diplomats is while applying for visas to travel overseas or in case of those acquiring foreign passports while relinquishing one’s citizenship or acquiring national id’s while overseas. And even those dealings are extremely cursory, hardly going beyond the few minutes it takes for the “diplomat” to scrutinize one’s paperwork if done in person. Terms like “diplomatic immunity,” “diplomatic bag,” “persona non grata,” “diplomatic passport,” “expelled diplomat” are buzzwords one reads about in spy thrillers, movies or occasionally during “diplomatic row”
Which is to say those in Foreign Service are generally unsung heroes toiling away with little fame or recognition, except during times of crisis, notoriety (current example) or when they achieve some laudable: remember Vikas Swarup, author of the bestseller and Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire 

Before we look at what’s the big deal about Devyani Khobragade being arrested and “strip searched” like a “common criminal,” a few recent incidents involving American government officials and diplomats abroad
  • Missing Former Jewish FBI Agent Spied on Iran for CIA: After months and years of claiming "Former FBI agent Robert Levinson was not a U.S. government employee when he went missing in Iran during a trip in 2007,"  (link) The Associated Press stated in an investigative report that “Robert Levinson, a former Jewish FBI agent, was working directly for the CIA on a mission in Iran when he was last seen in 2007” (link)
  • An American contractor working for CIA in Pakistan claims “diplomatic immunity” after he shot dead two Pakistanis in a street in LahoreInterestingly, the contractor, Raymond Davis, was set free and came home to the US after US government paid in the region of $700,000 (£436,000) as "blood money" to each of three families whose relatives were killed.
Which brings us back to the Devyani Khobragade. The case supposedly centers around underpaying her Domestic Help. According to media reports “The diplomat had allegedly submitted false documents to obtain a work visa for an Indian babysitter and housekeeper in her Manhattan home, the Associated Press reported. Court papers said Ms. Khobragade, 39, claimed in visa documents that she paid the worker $4,500 a month when the worker actually received less than $600 a month. The Indian diplomat, who pleaded not guilty in court the same day, was later freed on a $250,000 bond.”


Wonder if the actions of Manhattan US attorney Preet Bharara – who, by the way just happens to be Indian American -  is an overzealous US official out to extract “blood money” (Political mileage) from Indian government or just someone out to ensure the rights of all foreign born housekeepers and maids are upheld?! Much as the socialist in me would like to root for uplifting the underprivileged diplomatic maids, I would hate for Mr. Bharara to claim any more political mileage from an international diplomatic row.