New Delhi/Washington, Dec 20: Concerned over the anger in India at the humiliating treatment meted out to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, top US officials engaged in talks with Indian diplomats to find a resolution to the row.
Close on the heels of US Secretary of State John Kerry calling up National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to express regret over the mess-up, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman Thursday called up Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh during which they discussed specific steps to resolve the situation.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has termed as “deplorable” the humiliating arrest, strip and cavity search that Khobragade, India’s deputy consul general in New York, was put through, is learnt to have directed officials to ensure “full resolution” of the issue, sources said.
India has demanded that Khobragade be released unconditionally and all charges against her dropped. She has been charged with visa fraud and underpaying her house maid. She has denied the charges.
India also stuck to its demand that the US must tender an unconditional apology for the humiliating treatment meted out to the envoy.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath Thursday said that to satisfy India the US will have to apologise and admit their mistake.
“Just regretting and completing a formality is not acceptable. We are not happy. They will have to apologise,” Nath told media persons here, reacting to Kerry’s call.
The envoy’s father, Uttam Khobragade, a former Maharashtra bureaucrat, has threatened to launch a hunger strike if his daughter is denied justice in the US.
“I will wait for the developments and go to New Delhi next week. I shall try to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. But if my daughter does not get justice, I plan to launch a hunger strike,” Khobragade told IANS.
Sherman called up Singh to discuss specific steps during which the statement by Manhattan’s India-born US attorney Preet Bharara came up, defending his department’s action against Khobragade.
It was learnt that Sherman distanced herself from Bharara’s statement.
India also hit back at Bharara for saying Khobragade was not handcuffed and was extended all courtesies and also accused the US of interfering with the Indian legal system.
Describing Khobragade as the “only … victim” in this case, the external affairs ministry said the action taken against her violated the Vienna Convention.
“There were no courtesies in the treatment meted out to the diplomat, under the normal definition of that word in the English language,” said spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
The ministry Thursday questioned the need for the US to stealthily evacuate from India the family of Sangeeta Richard, the domestic help against whom Khobragade filed a case of cheating in New Delhi last year.
It said the US admission that it was necessary to evacuate the Richard’s family “needs to be considered very carefully with regard to the implicit comment it makes” about India’s legal system.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid Thursday said the decision to revoke the paring down of privileges to US diplomats – taken as a retaliatory measure – would not be taken in a hurry.
“Such decisions are not taken in a hurry. We will study the matter and then take a call,” the minister told IANS on the sidelines of an event here.
He said the decision was not done with an “intent to hurt them (US), but because we expect certain courtesies and we return them. These are courtesies, and not rights”.
Even as the US was in talks with India to find a solution to the issue, US diplomats in India were Thursday had their airport passes withdrawn as part of “reciprocal” measures taken by India.
Three days ago, police had removed barricades outside the US embassy here though a police picket remains. India has said there is no cut back on security for the US embassy.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Thursday said the circumstances surrounding the criminal case against Khobragade were suspicious and the issue impinged upon the sovereignty of India.
“Devyani Khobragade represents the image of sovereign India. She has been ill-treated and the treatment has not been denied,” said BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad.
“The larger issue is the way that maid’s family was made to flee to the US upon a visa quickly given and then she is seeking shelter as person under harassment,” he said, adding: “All this ultimately leads to a situation in which lot of suspicious circumstances are there.”
The issue had figured in parliament with MPs, cutting across party lines, condemning the treatment meted out to the diplomat.
Khobragade has been transferred to India’s Permanent Mission at the UN in New York, which would provide her with more diplomatic immunity.