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Fuming government gives US taste of its own medicine

Last updated on: December 18, 2013 12:11 IST

Fuming government gives US taste of its own medicine

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Sheela Bhatt

The Indian government is fuming.  Many serving and retired diplomats are anguished. The public arrest of Indian Deputy Consul General Devyani Khobragade in New York has triggered an ‘unprecedented’ chain of events. Sheela Bhatt reports

Indian government’s actions in response to the humiliation of Devyani Khobragade are finding support across the country. 

Reacting to the arrest and handcuffing of its 39-year-old diplomat in full public glare, the government on Tuesday returned the favour to the United States.

The government has asked the US embassy in New Delhi to submit the entire list of their Indian employees along with their salary details and work profiles. 

Now, India wants to see whether Indian employees are paid as well as the Americans.

From now on, American diplomats, visiting dignitaries and the American ambassador will not get any preferred treatment at any Indian airport. Three to four passes given to the embassy staffers to access-prohibited areas at airports have been withdrawn. These passes allowed US embassy staffers to expedite certain procedures.

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Image: A US embassy security guard stands in front of the main gate of the embassy as the bulldozer (unseen) removes the security barriers, in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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The royal treatment given to the US embassy by the Delhi traffic police will also be withdrawn. The security check post will remain, but the traffic barricades that were set up as a favour for the Americans at cost of other embassies situated in the Chanakyapuri locality have been removed. 

At the airport or around the embassy, what all is “legally allowed” and “necessary for security” will be provided, a government official said, adding that “nothing more or nothing less” will be given.

The other embassies in the vicinity had to suffer due to US’ dominating security presence in the area, who would neither allow smooth vehicular movement in the front or the back lanes of the embassy nor allow parking in close-by areas. 

The Indian government is also withdrawing “extra-privileges” like allowing traffic barricades on the public road for the US security staff with immediate effect.

Also, all consulate members in cities like Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai have been asked to immediately surrender ID cards given by the Indian government. 

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Image: A traffic policeman guides a bulldozer removing the security barriers in front of the US embassy in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Fuming government gives US taste of its own medicine

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Sheela Bhatt

From now on, Americans who are not 'diplomats' but work in consulates would just be treated as ordinary expats, enjoying ordinarily-available provisions under the relevant law.

Interestingly, the Indian government has also told the US embassy in New Delhi to submit the details of all the embassy staffers and their family details. 

The government wants to know all about the American diplomats and their families’ activities in India -- under scrutiny are aspects like whether they are working under proper visa; what kind of income they have and whether they are paying their taxes? 

Government sources said that certain duty exemptions on imports like alcohol given to US diplomats also stands withdrawn.   

This is an unprecedented development -- the government talking tough to a Western country and that too the US, a senior government officer said, who is greatly surprised by the Indian reaction.

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Image: A bulldozer removes the security barriers in front of the US embassy in New Delhi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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Sheela Bhatt

What Khobragade has gone through in the US has made senior government officers, both serving and retired, furious.

Former Secretary E A S Sarna has written to Prime Minister Mnamohan Singh demanding that the ‘government immediately call off the proposals to set up nuclear power projects at Mithi Virdi (Gujarat), Kovvada (Andhra Pradesh) and any other location, based on US-supplied nuclear reactors, as those reactors would only help the US at the cost of India’. 

‘If India has any self respect, it will act on this forthwith,’ he said.

He also demanded that, ‘India should review its purchase portfolio with the US and trim it drastically to send a strong message that we accord the highest priority to respecting our own laws and our national interests.’

K C Singh, former ambassador to Iran and well-known commentator, told rediff.com, “Does Devyani belong to the Al Qaeda? The Americans have gone nutty. This is done under the watch of the US State Department under Secretary of State John Kerry. The Americans want to teach India a lesson. This is the signal given to India for its Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran policies.”

Singh added, “Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh was in Washington last week, why didn’t the Americans bring up the issue and ask for clarifications? What was the need to spring a surprise as soon as Singh left for India?"

In fact, many observers believe that Singh has taken a firm stand being a lady diplomat herself.

Devyani’s father Uttam Khobragade was once a very powerful bureaucrat in Maharashtra. He is now retired. 

Being a Dalit also makes him politically powerful. He has worked closely with former Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilarao Deshmukh and current Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, who played a major role on Tuesday in formulating stern policy on the issue.


Image: A US embassy employee looks out from a door as she watches a bulldozer removing the security barriers
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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