'Diplomatic privileges are not a one way street'
The bitter India-US diplomatic row over an Indian diplomat may have been defused for now, but Americans in New Delhi are not likely to get their swimming pool, hamburgers, bowling and booze back anytime soon.
For reciprocity is the name of the game since the US chose to arrest, strip search and slap a criminal case of visa fraud against Devyani Khobragade, India's then deputy consul general in New York, before India's hardball diplomacy sent her back home safe.
India has neither been "petty" nor "irresponsible" in "a vindictive campaign against US diplomats in New Delhi" as the influential Washington Post suggested in a recent editorial, a diplomatic source said noting that diplomatic privileges cannot be a one way street.
As Sridharan Madhusudhanan, press counsellor at the Indian embassy in Washington pointed out in a letter to the Post, US "officials posted in consulates have been issued identity cards with stipulations similar to those their Indian counterparts receive in the United States."
"Securing immunities and privileges for US officials abroad is best done by respecting international conventions and according entitled courtesies in the United States," he wrote.
All that India has been demanding is that Indian diplomats should be afforded "the same immunities and courtesies under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations that the US government seeks for its officials posted abroad."
"Immunity is the fundamental concept on which diplomats operate," a source said. Yet the Americans are very "generous" in interpreting international conventions when it relates to them and very "stingy" when it comes to others.
"The US is very reluctant to commit and very quick to ask" the source quipped taking a look back at the Khobragade affair that has threatened to derail one of "the most important relationships" for both nations.
In choosing to criminalise "a wage dispute with a domestic employee", a source said the US had ignored a pre-existing legal case in India with Khobragade as the first complainant against her housekeeper and nanny, Sangeeta Richard.
If the US takes the position that "law is the law" then it should be in India too and Washington should respect Indian legal processes, the source said.
Even as Indian and US diplomats negotiated at various levels in Washington and New Delhi, Indian embassy here also reached out to lawmakers to make its position understood on the Capitol Hill.
India's new ambassador, S. Jaishankar, met key members of the India caucus and House and Senate foreign affairs panels.
The overwhelming opinion on the Hill, a source said was that "this should not have happened" and the US officials who chose to act the way they did were "apparently not in the business of thinking how the next day's newspaper would look like."
Though India did explore the judicial option with Khobragade's lawyer Daniel Arshack negotiating with Manhattan's Indian-American prosecutor Preet Bharara, India's main concern was to get her immunity "not only for her, but for the principle itself," a knowledeable source said.
Now that the crisis has been defused with Khobragade's return to India, the expectation is that "everybody realises the importance of the India-US relations" and steps are initiated to put the relationship back on track in the weeks ahead.
And as the Americans in Delhi pine for their booze, burgers and bowling, they would hopefully remember a lesson learnt that it takes two to make diplomacy work.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 13-01-2014)