India must insist that U.S. drop charges against Khobragade and apologise: BJP

New Delhi, Dec.20 : Senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday were unanimous in their insistence that the United States must drop visa fraud charges against Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade and apologise to her and the Government of India for what it called an unnecessary incident of mistreatment that could affect bilateral ties between the two countries.

Former External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha said: "This attitude of America shouldn't be accepted by India. We have to insist that the charges must be dropped and that the U.S. must apologize."

"It is necessary for them to apologize for their disrespectful treatment towards a diplomat," he added.

He further said that all Americans staying in India without proper identification, verification and in violation of Indian laws, should be arrested.

"All those people who are staying here against the law must be arrested. There are many people here who don't deserve diplomatic status.

The former minister asked: "Will America behave the same way with China? China would have given them a hard-hitting answer if same thing had happened to one of their citizens."

"Today, the failure of Indian foreign policy is exposed. It is not an insult for Devyani; but for the nation," Sinha said.

Another BJP leader Balbir Punj claimed: "America could dare to do all this because of our weak stand against them. We have expressed our strong stand. America has been behaving very arrogantly."

He also suggested that India could pile up the pressure on United States economically if it did not back off on the Khobragade case.

"They need us more today, than we need them. India should have a look at the the level of economic co-operation," Punj said.

The BJP's Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ravi Shankar Prasad, said: "I think the Indian Government should take this matter up very seriously. Both countries need each other. We would like to convey our point of view in very understandable terms."

"India is a country where the rule of law is there. India is a huge country. We can't allow a prosecutor (Preet Bharara) to govern Indian foreign policy," he added.

The reaction from the BJP leaders came after the United States ruled out acceding to either of the two Indian demands - withdrawal of charges against Khobragade, and an apology for alleged mistreatment, after her arrest in New York last week.

"We take these allegations very seriously. We're not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges. Again, this is really a law enforcement issue," the State Department spokesperson, Marie Harf, said.

She refused to distance the State Department from alleged highly rhetorical statement of Preet Bharara, the U.S. prosecutor handling the case, as was being reported from India.

The report came following the telephonic conversation between the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, and India's Foreign Secretary, Sujatha Singh.

According to reports quoting the sources, Sherman's call was a follow-up to a call made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon Wednesday, during which Kerry expressed regret over the situation.

Both sides on Thursday discussed specific steps during which the statement by Preet Bharara came up, defending his department's action against Khobragade.

It has been reported that Sherman has distanced herself from Bharara's statement.

Earlier, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has reportedly rebutted claims made by Bharara that Khobragade was "accorded courtesies" and not handcuffed when she was arrested.

Media reports quoted sources in the MEA as saying that Bharara's claims were mere allegations, and that nothing has been proved as yet on any wrong being committed by Khobragade vis-a-viz her former maid Sangeetha Richards.

Sources in the MEA are being quoted by media television channels, as saying that the Indian Government is hardening its stance on the issue, and is demanding nothing short of an apology from the U.S. Government and a dropping of the case against Khobragade.

New Delhi is maintaining that there is only one victim in the case, and that is Devyani Khobragade. It claims that no courtesies were extended to the diplomat as is being claimed by Bharara.

It said that U.S. Government should have focussed on Sarah Richards and her family and not on Khobragade and her family.

Referring to the evacuation of Richards family members from India to the United States, the MEA was quoted, as saying that no foreign government had a right to evacuate an Indian citizens while cases were pending against them.

Earlier, Bharara vowed to hold those breaking the law accountable "no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are."

Bharara claimed there has been "misinformation and factual inaccuracy" in the reporting on the Khobragade case which is "creating an inflammatory atmosphere." Between the United States and India.
"There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade. It is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis," he said.

Accepting that he has a limited role as a prosecutor in the visa fraud case involving Khobragade, Bharara said he had constraints in explaining the whole case as he would like, but "nevertheless would make sure that the public record is clearer than it has been thus far."
Bharara continues to maintain that Khobragade evaded U.S. laws designed to protect the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers from exploitation.

"This Office's sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law, no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are," he said.

He further said that legal attempts had begun in India against the victim, who had worked as a domestic help for Khobragade, and attempts were being made to "silence" her.

He said the domestic help's family was brought to the United States to ensure the safety of victims, witnesses and their families, while cases are pending.

He said that she was charged based on conduct as is alleged in the court complaint, that "shows she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers."

A 1999 batch IFS officer, Khobragade, India's Deputy Consul General in New York, was arrested on December 12 by the State Department's diplomatic security bureau, and then handed over to the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

Khobragade was taken into custody as she was dropping her daughter to school before being released on a USD 250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.

--ANI (Posted on 20-12-2013)

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