By Arun Kumar
Washington, Jan 11 (IANS) With the bitter India-US row over the arrest of an Indian diplomat defused with her departure for India, both sides are hoping to bring the “important” relationship back on track in the weeks ahead.
One sentiment encountered during the discussions to work out a deal over the treatment of Devyani Khobragade, India’s then deputy consul general in New York, was that this was a mess-up that should not have happened, knowledgeable sources said.
“We need to work together to see that these things don’t happen again,” these sources said suggesting that “big picture guys” in the US diplomatic establishment apparently failed to stop in time the “sectoral bureaucracy” that chose to criminalise what was essentially a civil dispute.
Khobragade, 39, left for India Thursday hours after informing a US court in New York that the US State department had approved her accreditation as counsellor at India’s permanent mission at the United Nations to accord her full diplomatic immunity.
Meanwhile as a federal grand jury in New York Thursday indicted Khobragade on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper and nanny, Sangeeta Richard, whom she brought from India, the US asked New Delhi to waive her immunity.
When India declined, US asked India to send Khobragade back home. In turn, New Delhi asked the US to withdraw from India a counsellor rank US diplomat, who was allegedly involved in arranging to bring Richard’s family to US.
Sources said the diplomatic option was pursued once it became clear that there was no meeting ground on the legal route with the US side unwilling to go below a “misdemeanour” charge while the idea of an Indian diplomat facing criminal charges was out of question for New Delhi.
While State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki expressed regret over the expulsion of a US diplomat by India, she also hoped that this would put an end to the crisis and lead to a return to the good old times in India-US ties.
“We deeply regret that the Indian government felt it was necessary to expel one of our diplomatic personnel,” she said. “This has clearly been a challenging time in the US-India relationship. We expect and hope that this will now come to closure, and the Indians will take significant steps with us to improve our relationship.”
The spokesperson, however, made clear that charges against Khobragade “still remain in place. That hasn’t changed” and the US request for a waiver of her immunity is “an indication of the serious charges, the seriousness of the charges that have been waged against her.”
Prior “to her departure it was conveyed to her and to the Government of India that she is not permitted to return to the United States except to submit to the jurisdiction of the court,” Psaki said.
Khobragade’s name would be placed in visa and immigration lookout systems to prevent the routine issuance of any future visa, she said.
The spokesperson also went on to suggest that with her transfer to India, Khobragade had lost her diplomatic immunity and “a warrant may be issued for her arrest” – an option that Indian officials believe US was unlikely to pursue.
Psaki said the US was “looking to move our relationship forward, we’re looking to move past this challenging time, and we hope they’ll be a partner in that.”
At the White House spokesman Jay Carney expressed similar sentiments saying “the United States and India enjoy a broad and deep friendship. And this isolated episode is not indicative of the close and mutually respectful ties that we share.”
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)