India-US diplomatic row evokes mixed reactions as envoy heads home

New Delhi, Jan.10: Lawmakers crossed swords on Friday over the government’s handling of the diplomatic row with the United States ahead of envoy Devyani Khobragade’s impending return to India after she was indicted for visa fraud and the U.S. government immediately asked her to leave the country.

The Indian diplomat’s arrest and strip-search in New York caused a major rift between India and the United States.

Khobragade has flown out of the United States. The Indian foreign ministry said she was being transferred to a post in New Delhi, where she was expected to arrive late evening.

India’s Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh, said she was glad that her officer was coming back.

“I am not at a liberty to talk about it at this point of time. Let me just content myself to say that I am glad my officer is finally coming home,” said Singh.

Devyani has reiterated her innocence on charges filed against her of visa fraud and underpaying her nanny, an Indian foreign ministry statement said.

She is flying back to India to take up duties at the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi, but for now her children remain in the United States, it added.

Meanwhile, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Yashwant Sinha, criticised the government for remaining silent over the issue.

“If today I was a foreign minister, I would have sent the American Ambassador back to the U.S. and would have asked him or her to return to his home. I would also have asked our Indian Ambassador to return to India. This is a very serious issue, but why are we sitting quietly?” said Sinha.

A U.S. government official said Washington accepted a request by India to accredit her at the United Nations and then asked New Delhi to waive the diplomatic immunity that her status conferred. India denied the request, leading Washington to ask for her departure, the official said.

Congress leader P. C. Chacko said the country retorted in the strongest measure possible and nobody can take India for granted.

“We have proved that nobody can take India for granted because whatever has happened there was the most unfortunate in the diplomatic circles. Such a thing has never happened. Whether it is America or anybody India is not going to take things light now. We have retorted in the strongest measure possible and that has produced results also. We are happy about it,” said Chacko.

Devyani, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on December 12, 2013 and charged with one count of visa fraud and another of making false statements about how much she paid her housekeeper.

Her arrest set off protests in India amid disclosures that she was strip searched. It also soured the broader U.S.-India bilateral relationship, leading to the postponement of two visits to India by senior U.S. officials and another by a U.S. business delegation.

Furious at Khobragade’s treatment, India has curtailed privileges offered to American diplomats and ordered the U.S. Embassy to close a club for American expatriates in New Delhi.

The arresting authority, the U.S. Marshals Service, characterised the strip search as a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee.

Khobragade’s departure would remove the focus of current friction between New Delhi and Washington, but it is unclear how long it will take the anger to subside in the run-up to national elections in India in May.

The case has exposed underlying problems in a bilateral relationship that has failed to live up to its billing by President Barack Obama in 2010 as “a defining partnership for the 21st Century.” (ANI)