Row over Indian Consul in NY

By K.N. Pandita

External Ministry is caught on the wrong foot. Divyani Khobragade case exposes the darker side of the Ministry. There are questions that are likely to bring onus to the doorsteps of the Indian Consul.

Prior to this case, reports of scurvy treatment of Indian diplomats by the US immigration staff have also come in. These were dealt with silently without raking up media hype. Why has Divyani case been trumpeted out of proportion? Is it so because her father is a retired diplomat with influence in circles of power in the capital city? He could manage bureaucratic pressure on the Ministry. 

Being in a high position, he could provide facilities to his daughter and prepare her for Foreign Service. But he has failed to inspire her against doing unbecoming things as representative of her country on the foreign land.

She filed a fraudulent visa for her maid Sangheeta Richards. Before leaving for US, she obtained a second contract from Sangheeta in which she mentioned reduced salary and did not say of maximum or minimum. She prompted the maid to give false statement to the US embassy about her salary. She submitted false affidavit/legal document contravening US laws.

While under arrest, she was given normal treatment including coffee and freedom to use her mobile for two hours. Yes, she was strip-searched by sleuths, and that is the practice to make sure that there is nothing explosive on the body that would cause damage to her and others. But there is no confirmation of cavity checks and handcuffing. She enjoys full diplomatic immunity only to the extent of her official work as Consul and not beyond as she is not a diplomat.

The crucial question is why months ago did she file a petition in Delhi High Court restraining the domestic helper from filing a case against her in the US? Obviously, she knew she had given a false statement/affidavit in the US and a legal case could be framed against her. When you play the game you must know the rules. She cannot plead innocent and she is neither.

The domestic aid Sangheeta Richards was right in knowing why she was paid only rupees thirty thousand a month as her wages while made to say that she was paid US$4000 a month. She was suspicious, and rightly so, that she was underpaid and the balance money was pocketed by her employer. The employer should have used common sense to read human psychology.

India retaliated by demanding the details of salary of Indian employees in the US embassy and American School in India. Obviously, the premise is that these employees are not paid exactly what is recorded in their letter of employment. That is something wrong, and Indian Consul chose to repeat the same.

If it is a mutually accepted custom to show higher salary in papers but pay less for whatever reasons, including at the level of services in foreign missions, why did US authorities break the custom? Who does not know that the US mission is paying far less to its Indian staff than what is shown in papers. Who pockets the balance money?

This is one part of the story. The other part is really bizarre. Why did the US authorities show extraordinary interest in Richard family which has been in their employ in New Delhi? What were the over-riding factors for the US authorities to take the extraordinary step of evacuating the family in such a hurry after obtaining visa for them within hours?

The argument that the US law provides for ensuring safety to a threatened person is far-fetched. US should have known that its act of evacuating Richard family in a clandestine manner could evoke displeasure and anger of Indian authorities. It did and with a bang.

There are many speculations. Richards have nearly three decades association with the American diplomats/officials in India. Who prompted Sangheeta Richards to seek job of domestic helper to an Indian Consul in NY? Who arranged visa for her family in such a short time and who took the initiative of evacuating her? Has CIA any role in this affair? Was the domestic helper working as a mole of CIA in the house of the Deputy Counsel General of India in NY? These questions invite response from the US authorities.

How come relations between Divyani and her domestic helper soured to the extent that the former sought legal intervention? Why did Mrs. Khobragade suddenly antagonize her domestic helper? Did she smell rat or did she suspect that her maid had come to know of her (Mrs. Khobragade’s) connections with CIA? Is it a story of rivalry between two informers of CIA in which Christian church had a role to play? The more we probe the entire case, the more mysterious it becomes.
Lastly, Divyani Khobragade’s credentials as an upright and honest Foreign Service officer rooted in nationalism become doubtful when we find her name among those who had clandestinely been allotted apartments in Adarsh high rise. It shows how influential and well connected she is.

A word may be said about Attorney Bharara, the prosecutor of Divyani. He seems to have taken support of relevant legislation of the US governing such cases. He may be of Indian origin but he is a US citizen and has to abide by the law of the land. It is preposterous to accuse him of witch-hunting for selfish aggrandizement.

Our External Affairs Ministry has over-acted in haste and in frenzy. It appears that Divyani’s father has misused his political and social influence. Media unnecessarily gave him extra coverage, which ironically substantiates our point of him misusing his influence. The Minister for External Affairs has been either misled or is part of bureaucratic charade.

The US authorities have blown up and handled the case in a mysterious and suspicious manner. Dramatic and bizarre evacuation of Richard family is clear indication of involvement of intelligence agencies in the entire case. Why their involvement, is something which only either Divyani or her domestic aid can explain. Both of them need to be interrogated. In simple terms US authorities/agencies have outsmarted Divyani Khobragade, her influential father and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.

In final analysis, it has to be said that the Ministry of External Affairs has to do good deal of home work in screening the diplomats and staffers assigned to its nearly 120 missions abroad. Thorough checking of their antecedents is strongly recommended. Retaining domestic aids from native country is a sign of colonial mentality. Indian diplomats need to learn to live without depending on aids and servants while serving in foreign countries.

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