Diplomatic strains between India and the United States deepened on Wednesday, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh describing the public humiliation of India’s deputy consul general in New York last week as “deplorable.”
Singh’s reaction came shortly after political parties demanded stern response to Washington’s bullying.
With Devyani Khobragade drawing a groundswell of public and political support, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament the Indian diplomat, who was arrested, cavity-searched and confined with drug addicts, had been trapped in a “conspiracy.”
Khobragade is accused of giving false information while applying for a visa for her maid, Sangeeta Richard, and of underpaying the woman.
Khurshid came up with the conspiracy theory on a day it emerged that Richard’s husband and two children obtained US visas and flew to New York on December 10, just two days before the diplomat was arrested.
Questioning the timing of the family’s departure to the US, India has accused Washington of planning Khobragade’s arrest and facilitating an immigration fraud despite being forewarned by New Delhi that there was a threat of illegal immigration by the maid’s family.
“This has severely damaged the US soft power in India. This unfriendly act by a friendly country has vitiated the spirit of the Indo-US relations,” said Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for HRD.
India late Tuesday shifted Khobragade, 39, to the United Nations Permanent mission in New York to ensure diplomatic immunity for her. Khurshid said he would not return to Parliament if he failed in his duty to bring her back honourably.
“It is not illegality that she is accused of, but the illegality she refused to oblige,” said Khurshid, who drew criticism for meeting a US Congressional delegation when top leaders had boycotted it.
His response came after leaders cutting across party lines wanted the government to send out a tough signal to the US that bilateral relations can only prosper if India’s gesture was met with equal reciprocity and many MPs highlighted problems faced by them and others at the US airports.
Khurshid justified the government’s action to scrap privileges enjoyed by US diplomats in India, saying the incident was a matter of India's honour and the country's prestige was involved in it.
“It is no longer an issue of an individual, but the sovereignty of a nation is involved,” he said. Curtailing benefits enjoyed by US diplomats, India on Tuesday stopped most imports by the US embassy, demanded details of salaries paid to Indian staff and domestic help and asked American consular officers and their families to return their identity cards. Traffic barricades near the US mission, a security measure, were also removed.