The US ambassador to India, Nancy J Powell, Monday announced that she had resigned and was returning home soon, less than four months after India-US relations nosedived over the arrest and alleged ill-treatment of Indian consul-general in New York, Devyani Khobragade.
Powell was the first woman US envoy to India and had arrived in New Delhi around the middle of April 2012. She was under tremendous pressure since the December 12 arrest of Khobragade in New York in an alleged visa fraud case, and her resignation is being seen as an outcome of the diplomatic fracas the two countries are still recovering from.
“Powell announced in a US mission town hall meeting March 31 that she has submitted her resignation to President Obama and, as planned for some time, will retire to her home in Delaware before the end of May,” a US embassy statement said.
It said she was ending a 37-year career that had included postings as US ambassador to Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Nepal and India, as well as service in Canada, Togo, Bangladesh, and Washington, where she was most recently director general of the foreign service.
“Ambassador Powell expressed her appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the US mission to India team who have worked to expand the parameters of the US-India bilateral relationship. She also thanked those throughout India who have extended traditional warm Indian hospitality to her and who have supported stronger bilateral ties,” the statement said.
Before her arrival in India, Powell had in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said India would be “a leading security partner of the United States in the 21st century,” and that “our relations are firmly grounded in a set of shared democratic values and an increasingly shared strategic vision of both the opportunities that can promote those values as well as the threats that can undermine them”.
However, with New Delhi retaliating strongly over the Khobragade incident, diplomatic privileges of US diplomats in India were curtailed, allegations of tax and visa fraud against American teachers at the US embassy school surfaced and high-level bilateral meetings postponed, among others, putting Powell in the spotlight.
The Khobragade incident also had an unlikely fallout on Washington’s attempt to reach out to the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who had been denied a visa for more than a decade now. While the American embassy was keen to schedule a meeting between Powell and Modi at the end of last year, it got delayed because of the Khobragade row.
While efforts have been made in recent weeks to bring the relationship back on track, South Block officials have felt that Powell — with her experience in dealing with India for several years as she had served in Kolkata before – could have handled the issue better and prevented damage to bilateral ties.
With Powell’s departure, the US embassy is expected to get a new ambassador, possibly a political appointee, to help rebuild the relationship with the new government in New Delhi.