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India cannot be pushed around without justification

comment Updated: Dec 19, 2013 23:40 IST
Hindustan Times
Devyani Khobragade

It is not every day that India is able to wrangle an expression of regret from the US on any issue, least of all its treatment now and in the past of our diplomats posted there. But after the Devyani Khobragade incident, India suddenly reacted with a ferocity not in keeping with its normal lukewarm responses.

The Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, is right in saying that “we conduct our foreign policy in a manner that we can be taken for granted.”

At least this has been the case so far, and if the Khobragade incident is a turning point, it must be welcomed. The case of Sunil James, the sailor who has been in a jail in Togo, on trumped up charges since July, has been released but only after public anger when the details came to light.

The odd excuses made about not having a representative in Togo are unacceptable, India could have found ways of getting the sailor home much earlier. The Americans who have seen it fit to harass the Indian diplomat move swiftly and ruthlessly when it comes to their own citizens, even those who have committed murders as was the case of Raymond Davis in Pakistan.

India, on the other hand, has been most cavalier when it comes to the indignities its citizens suffer abroad. There are many cases of Indians being harassed in the Gulf countries and facing discrimination in western countries. Yet, India’s attitude has been to leave well alone. It is probably this supine attitude that encouraged even a tiny country like Togo to throw the Indian sailor in jail for so long.

The US has in the past too harassed Indian diplomats after charges from their domestic workers. Yet Indians have routinely bent over backwards to accommodate the demands of American diplomats.

Smaller countries like Britain go all out to help their citizens, even when they are caught smuggling drugs in places like Thailand. Indian citizens have often complained that they do not have enough access to their missions abroad. All this has to change if India is to be taken seriously internationally.

The message must be clear – while India does not want to be unduly aggressive, it cannot be pushed around without justification. The Americans now say that they are looking for a positive outcome to this whole Khobragade episode. So is India, but on its own terms.