Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Khobragate: of Diplomatic Standoffs & Playgrounds


By Riya Kuruvilla

When none emerge guilty or guilt free.

Ever seen the HBO “Funny or Die: Playground Politics” series? I feel the recent diplomatic standoff between the U.S.A and India would provide impetus enough for an addition to the series. The series portrays a hulking (overweight, not built) America in a very bright red shirt, who in real terms is a bully, goes around trying to be the King of the playground, trying to solve problems of all the other kid-countries and simultaneously trying to extract ‘personal’ benefits. He unfortunately fails, in terms of solving problems and not in terms of the latter. In case you haven’t seen them yet, check out Africa, North Korea, Mexico and The Middle East.

A question that may emerge in our minds is that, who’s really guilty and who’s not really guilty? It’s a question that has anything but a simple answer. As you may infer from the Political Playground series, they’re all a bunch of kids and they’re not pure evil (please put aside your personal views of children, I assure you, they’re not out to get you, no matter how demonic they seem). They’re just looking to further their own interests- Africa in eradicating it’s awfully persistent problem of hunger, North Korea in furthering an ideology it believes in and it’s people are socially and otherwise conditioned in (no matter how crazy it sounds to us), and the middle east countries (particularly ‘paranoid’ Israel) in surviving the bucket load, or rather sea of conflict they’re swimming in, and America in staying at the top.

No one is evil and can be ultimately blamed, but everyone is at fault for one thing or the other. To understand diplomatic relations accurately therefore, we need to get rid of our personal biases, and take more facts than opinions into account. India’s external interests at this point of time seem to be asserting its position at par with U.S.A., demanding treatment as an equal. The U.S.A government’s treatment of this case was seen as belying the Vienna convention of 1961 and therefore sending a message to India that has it offended.

This time the bully is quite flustered, if not troubled by an unusual act of defiance by the usually docile India. India’s defensive began with a series of diplomatic reprisals recently, including security barricades around the U.S. embassy being removed and ordering the embassy to “stop all commercial activities” according to BBC news. Some Indian politicians felt that the US actions taken in arresting Khobragade), an Indian diplomat serving as the Deputy Consular General of Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs, were “inhumane and barbaric”, and refused to meet with the congressional delegation from the U.S.A.. India also ordered the expulsion of a US diplomat, Wayne May. Some analysts say that Khobragade belonging to a “Dalit” caste has a lot to do with New Delhi’s strong reaction to the incident, as with the 2014 Loksabha elections coming closer, the need for vote banks intensify.

The Economic Times says that the actions are simply seizing an opportunity for getting payback from the U.S.A and particularly Wayne May for evacuating R&AW officer Ravinder Singh in 2004, who had defected to the U.S.A. The U.S.A insists that Khobragade did not have full diplomatic immunity at the time of her arrest. Spokesperson Mari Harf says that Khobragade enjoyed only consular immunity, which meant immunity only in regards to her consular duties. When she was moved to the Indian United Nations Mission, she had to be awarded full diplomatic immunity.

The US then requested her to leave the country. The strip search that the diplomat was subjected to was defended by the state government as part of “standard procedure”. Although the Indian government demands that all charges against the diplomat be dropped, even after her return to India, the U.S still presses charges. The Hindustan Times reports that India and the U.S.A relations are in a deadlock as the U.S. requested a waiver of immunity for Khobragade on the 9th of January, which India most readily declined. Returned to India, Devyani Khobragade faces 5 years for making fraudulent statements and up to 10 years for Visa fraud.

This standoff is all due to a falling out of sorts between a housekeeper-nanny, Sangeeta Richards and her employer, who so happens to be a diplomat. Being a diplomat of course, would’ve helped her with visa-fraud, if she is guilty as accused. We do however need to keep in mind that even though the housekeeper was brought on an A-3 visa, there seems to be a disagreement between the two state governments on the status and wages of these India Based Domestic Aids.

Some sources say that Russian diplomats proven guilty of using up millions in a Medicaid scam were not treated with the aggression this Indian diplomat is being treated with. Analysts say that it is habitual of the US to avoid confrontation with Russia since the Cold war conflict, but the same doesn’t apply to India. Quite an insult to its calibre, India was bound to have taken offence when it caught wind of this. India is confidently resolute with the U.S.A. for a change; however it feels delayed and like the product of vested interests.

One may feel both Richards and Khobragade are not as innocent or as guilty as they are painted by different sections of the media. With a significant amount of reports of blackmail, extortion and threats between the family and supporters of the diplomat and maid, this nasty disagreement between persons has been blown out into an international display of ‘who’s the boss?’. Interestingly, both of them seem to be victims and oppressors in the system at the same time. The personal is indeed the political, although this phrase has taken on a very different meaning in this context.

The only thing that seems to be clear is that everyone is out for themselves and that no party is free of fault, whether this fault is being naïve and ignorant or cunning and manipulative.


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