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Khobragade case: Not the perfect solution, but a satisfactory compromise

Last updated on: January 14, 2014 14:57 IST

India tried to work out a legal solution, but that has not been possible. The final outcome is not the best one, but the optimal solution to a sub-optimal case, reports Sheela Bhatt.

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament that if he did not get back Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade from America, then he would not return to the House.

Khurshid can heave a sigh of relief as his ministry worked out a 'compromise' and the Americans are a party to it. Dr Khobragade has been 'withdrawn' from her assignment in America.

In return, an American diplomat of similar rank has been asked to be withdrawn from India for reportedly helping the family of Sangeeta Richard, Dr Khobragade's domestic help, fly out to the US.

No side can declare victory, yet the 'system' has worked whereby Dr Khobragade will not face charges as long as she visits America on an 'official assignment'.

But she remains an accused in the eyes of US law. She was indicted a few hours before she left the country.

She will have to carry the burden of the case because she did not get a waiver from President Barack Obama. However, her newly-acquired visa under the G-1 category allows her multiple entries into the US.

The Indian side was clear about what it wanted from the day when the spat between Richard and Dr Khobragade, then India's deputy consul in New York, resulted in the latter's arrest on December 12, 2013.

US marshals treated the Indian diplomat disgracefully and that created a huge furore in India.

Dr Khobragade got a G-1 visa on January 8 and she flew out soon after, leaving behind her two young daughters and America-born, Indian-origin, husband.

She will have to face legal consequences if she travels to America on a personal trip.

When negotiations began to save 'India's honour', as some MPs were quoted as saying, the Indian side had a few things in mind.

They were working to get Dr Khobragade back. Nothing more, nothing less.

After her arrest, a lot happened that made Dr Khobragade' position weak.

One, her passport was with the US court.

Two, she was not allowed to travel outside the US.

Three, she was out on bail, so could not leave America. If she did, it would imply that she was jumping bail.

Four, as and when the case progressed, she was required to present herself in court.

Five, her presence in America without a G-1 visa meant that her case was 'live'.

All the five conditions have been tackled as she landed in India on Friday night.

As an MEA statement stated, Dr Khobragade, as a counsellor at the Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations in New York, has been accorded the privileges and immunities of a diplomatic envoy under the terms of Section 15 of the Headquarters Agreement between the United Nations and the United States and she is in a safe zone like any other diplomat.

The US government did request India to waive Dr Khobragade's immunity, but India declined to do so and transferred her to the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi.

Before her departure for India, Dr Khobragade reiterated her innocence over the charges filed against her.

The MEA's contention is that Dr Khobragade's case is over issues between her and her domestic help. It is a legal fight between two Indians. The case is pending in an Indian court and the Americans had no need to intervene.

In diplomacy, reciprocity is an issue.

On Friday, the American embassy in New Delhi was asked to withdraw a director-rank counsellor. This is significant, and tit for tat.

The allegation is that this officer violated Indian law by conducting a clandestine operation in India.

A government source said India has "reasons to believe that he is closely involved in the processes relating to this case and subsequent unilateral action by the US."

The Indian side is not fully satisfied with the outcome, but Dr Khobragade's attorney in New York has made it clear that unless she returns to the US in a 'non-immune status,' she will not face charges.

India tried to work out a legal solution, but that has not been possible.

The final outcome is not the best one, but the optimal solution of a sub-optimal case.

The charges against Dr Khobragade will remain with US prosecutor Preet Bharara telling a New York court, 'There will not be a need to have an arraignment on the indictment scheduled at this time. We understand that the defendant was very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status.'

There was speculation that there were differences of opinion between the MEA and Dr Khobragade. Indian diplomats dismiss such talk, saying, "It was clear, always, that Devyani would not accept any bargain under which she was required to accept guilt."

The tit-for-tat action is only the second instance of a US diplomat being expelled from India.

In 1981, George Griffin, then political counsellor at the US embassy in New Delhi, was expelled in retaliation for Indian diplomat Prabhakar Menon's explusion from the US.

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi