Lesson from the storm

Khobragade matter should be laid to rest. Then, IFS must cast a hard look at its perks and privileges.

Published: January 11, 2014 4:19 am

Khobragade matter should be laid to rest. Then, IFS must cast a hard look at its perks and privileges

Devyani Khobragade has been given full diplomatic immunity by the US and been brought back home. She has also been formally indicted in the US for visa fraud and making false statements about the terms she offered her domestic employee, Sangeeta Richard. This was evidently a hard-won compromise. A revenge expulsion of a US diplomat by Delhi, however, belies hopes that one of the most bitter episodes between the two countries in recent times has drawn to a close.

India had put all mutual official interactions on hold for nearly a month after Khobragade was arrested, stripped US diplomats of their privileges, removed protective barricades at the embassy, blocked import of food and liquor for diplomatic staff, requested documentation for their employees, suspended airport access privileges, and more. The official response projected outrage at the US for taking India for granted in meting out this treatment to its acting consul general, never mind the fact that US arrest procedures treat all accused the same way. There was no perceptible dent in the indignation even when US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly expressed regret to National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. Khobragade’s homecoming should soothe frictions, which have begun to exact a real toll on ties, leading to the postponement of a visit by the US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, and a cancellation by the US energy secretary.
Once this is all over, there must be a consular dialogue to smooth the wrinkles that have been exposed in the diplomatic arrangements. India should resolve the long-running questions regarding domestic staff for foreign missions and their compensation instead of facilitating workarounds and invoking diplomatic immunity to cover for domestic sins. The IFS must also use this as a learning moment, and understand that it cannot continue in a feudal cocoon, that the old sense of elite entitlement is fraying at home as well. This is an occasion to look hard at diplomatic perks, and strip away the inessentials. The times are changing and the foreign service establishment can ill afford to raise the flag and claim national affront every time other countries apply their own reasonable laws to the way of life it takes for granted.

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