Downgraded from friend to a gotcha nation


Obama administration teaching India a lesson?

Relations between India and America have been temporarily mislaid in that variable space between letter of the law and spirit of the relationship. Diplomatic dignity has been hijacked by an egregious New York law officer, Preet Bharara, who is clearly so deeply in love with himself that he has metamorphosed into a first-rate hypocrite. But the real concern should be elsewhere: why did his superiors in Washington’s State Department permit Bharara to behave as he did?

When all pontificating is over, faults will be visible on all sides. Where there are human beings there are problems. Where there are problems, there can be solutions. That is why nations employ a corps of diplomats. Diplomats know that civilized answers can only be found through dialogue; so the first and abiding requirement of international behaviour is courtesy, from whence the phrase ‘diplomatic courtesy’. But instead of finding a calm way out of a pinprick problem, some worthies within the Barack Obama establishment decided that the time had come to “teach” India, and Indian officials, a “lesson”. They downgraded India from friend to “gotcha” nation.

This is the fate of the weak, for even rivals are treated with kid gloves, not least because there is fear of consequences, as Russia’s tough foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reminded everyone. Just before India’s acting consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, was humiliated, Bharara brought criminal charges against 49 Russian diplomats for medical insurance fraud. Eleven of them are serving in New York. Not one of them has seen a handcuff. Washington knows that Comrade-President Putin has lots of handcuffs in the cupboards of the Kremlin. Russians were accorded diplomatic immunity. Devyani was denied such consideration on the sort of specious interpretation that would not travel very far if host nations applied them to American diplomats in their capitals. Neither did it occur to any wise egg in Washington that such behaviour with a woman is transgression of a more important human code than breach of any protocol signed in Geneva.

How could it, when the action was a conscious set-up? The maid in question, Sangita Richard, in an astonishing departure from norm, was given virtual political asylum in America. Her husband and child got visas to join her without any of the sweat that Indians associate with this process. Action against Devyani was initiated only when they reached New York. They will not return. Who gave them life-long visas in a hurry? Will we get any answers? Not likely. Is it accidental that two Americans of Indian origin, Bharara and Nisha Desai-Biswal, assistant secretary of state, are the official face of this sting? If this was deliberate, the master planners must be pretty dim. Such thin prophylactic was never going to be sufficient protection against Indian outrage.


‘If that is the message coming from the White House, it is almost inevitable that officials down the line get encouraged to flex false muscle.’


But the challenge now is surely to rescue the Indo-US relationship, so carefully nurtured by George Bush and Dr Manmohan Singh, from this sudden bonfire. The Singh-Bush spirit has been wandering in nowhere space, desperate for an anchor, ever since Obama decided he could fob off India’s Prime Minister with dinner, a few conciliatory phrases squeezed out like water from rock, and a public relations wiggle or two. Is it psychological? Is Obama indifferent to India precisely because his predecessor Bush was so different?

Or has Obama concluded that India is dispensable: India is unable or unwilling to play any strategic role in American withdrawal from Afghanistan [although the potential is huge]; it has become a waffle state under a weak government, eager to maximise gains such as the nuclear deal but reluctant to deliver on its side of the bargain [witness A.K. Antony’s imperious rejection of American fighter aircraft]; its economy has lost promise and cannot be a meaningful trading partner or investment base. Obama’s Asian triangle of interest has been China, Afghanistan and Iran. India is a hollow on the periphery. If that is the message coming from the White House, it is almost inevitable that officials down the line get encouraged to flex false muscle.

John Kerry’s conciliatory telephone call to Delhi was recognition of American excess. But a nadir can also be the starting point for renewal. One year later, Obama will be loitering in the waiting room of the future. In five months, the Manmohan Singh era, already unraveling, will be over. Obama surely understands that the architecture of a stable and economically buoyant Asia is incomplete without a pillar called India. And Delhi must know that all relations thrive best on a two-way street. The critical months of restructuring will be between July and October of 2014, but for that to happen work on foundation stones of a fresh start must be laid in January and February.

In the meantime, the letter of American law will have to adjust to a revived bilateral spirit.

Mobashar Jawed Akbar is a leading Indian journalist and author. He is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Guardian. He has also served as Editorial Director of India Today.


  1. Americans are megalomaniacal hypocrites who think God appointed them to take care of the rest of the World. They are bullies and cowards.

    "Evacuating" 2 Indian citizens from Delhi shows how much contempt they have for Indian Judiciary. There is no case for slavery and human trafficking for a maid who was paid 500 dollars in the US, 500 dollars in Indian 30,000 RUPEES (paid back home per maid's request), had 2 rooms in expensive NY city, provided meals, had Metro train pass to go to Church, cab allowance, being able to donate to Church, had TV set, cell phone and to top it all who had health insurance paid by Govt of India ( a luxury not available to 40 million Americans).

    Even if one thinks Devyani underpaid her, she did not commit any grave crime, and thus the US violated Vienna diplomatic conventions by arresting her. And worse strip searching her.

  2. I am not a great fan of Devayni (indian diplomat) and how she has been treated. They followed the official procedure. The issue here that Sangetta Richard (the nanny) gamed the system with the help of some NGOs that want free publicity.
    There are occasional riots in India but nobody from any ethnic or religious minority was persecuted in India in its 5000 years old history. There are over 200000 applications are pending from Indians alone for asylum cases with the department of immigration. All the applicants have one thing in common that they are the victims of religious persecution and the irony of that is over 90% of the applicants belong to a particular community that is perceived to be an offshoot of Hinduism. This is a multi billion dollar industry. Just pick up any Indian news paper in USA especially Hindi and Punjabi and you will find that every third ad is from immigration lawyers who are promising to get you green card on asylum category.
    In 80s. and 90s it was through marriage with contract arrangements. Since immigration department is making it extremely difficult, now the T visa and the asylum category have become popular.
    People who play by the rule wait years for immigration. Graduates of Sanford, MIT, Harvard or other Ivy League schools wait for years and often more than a decade to get the green card because they play by the rule.

    Feliz Navidat Uncle Sam.

    My heart goes out to those graduates from US universities who are waiting for years. Please do not lose hope and remember if you play by the rule you will become a winner in life as your conscience will give you huge contentment that no amount of easy scheme by gaming the system will give you. You are a winner and keep it up. My mother always quotes one line from a famous Indian writer and I quote here; "if you are evil that does not mean I should not be noble. "

    So keep it up and play by the rule. Remember "IF THEY ARE EVIL THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU SHOULD NOT BE NOBLE

  3. Despite the simmering bad vibes between two countries, US has just inked a $ one billion deal with India for the sale of Six Saber Jets to be delivered over a period of time. As observed by Mr.KN Bhatt, Sr.Advocate, Supreme court, we need to keep such deals in abeyance until Devyani case is sorted out amicably by US. There is no dearth of Arm Supplying countries in the world and UK, France and Russia will be too happy to supply us alternate jets. Put the deal on back burner.. Strike the iron when it is hot and this is a God send opportunity for us to twist the arm of Uncle Sam. There is no point in taking away small previledges which were granted to their Embassay employees in India as they will get used to it after some time whereas Preet Bharara will still talk tough and make us pay for this contrieved crime

  4. I have said it before and will say it again.
    The Americans have given a political Asylum to Richards family against Indian representations which means the case against Devyani becomes null and void.
    An Asylum is generally given as a refuge against a threat from the government of a country and not an individual. In this case it is India.
    Therefore India can advise the court in USA its participation with a challenge at the hearing on 13th January as the joint defendant. India then can take this case to the Hague and Vienna Courts to set new guidance on Human Rights and the treatment of Women in particular .
    Let the Whole world participate and decide on the future code of conduct of Governments and duties of Diplomats.
    Regards and God bless.
    Viren Naik

  5. MJ Akber needs to do some home work. Preet Bharara does not work for the US State Dept. So the article is wrong from its first paragraph : “why did his superiors in Washington’s State Department permit Bharara to behave as he did?”.

    MJA is grossly misinformed and unauthentic in his assertions.

    Here are the facts:

    1. Devyani broke the law

    2. She was arrested and will be provided due process

    3. India doesn’t like criminals arrested so it cried foul

    4. India is crying.

  6. While there is some reason to be furious about the manner Ms. Devyani was arrested, Indians should objectively question why there exists two sets of documents. And, Ms. Devyani needs to answer that question.

  7. India behaving like teanage boy. Even if india wins the short term goal for this criminal lady, it will lose in tge long run. First, kiss good bye to permanant seat in un counsil. Then delays and reztrictions for indian people to enter usa.

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