In a major snub, Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi refused to meet a senior US Congressional delegation in New Delhi on Tuesday as a mark of protest against the treatment meted out to India's deputy consul general in New York.
Modi tweeted on Tuesday: "Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA."
Refused to meet the visiting USA delegation in solidarity with our nation, protesting ill-treatment meted to our lady diplomat in USA.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 17, 2013
India has asked the US to return all ID cards issued to their consular officers posted in the country. The move may be a precursor to reviewing immunity and benefits enjoyed by US consular officers in India, according to PTI reports.
Earlier on Monday, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar had also cancelled her meeting with the visiting US delegation.
Kumar had cancelled the meeting as she felt it was not "appropriate" to meet the Parliamentarians of the US Congress, which has badly treated one of India's senior diplomats, according to sources.
Significantly, national security advisor (NSA) Shiv Shankar Menon, who also had a scheduled meeting with the five-member US team, did not meet them, apparently for the same reason.
39-year-old Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, was taken into custody last week on a street in New York as she was dropping her daughter to school and handcuffed in public on visa fraud charges before being released on a $250,000 bond after pleading not guilty in court.
The delegations comprised of Congressmen George Holding (Republican - North Carolina), Pete Olson (Republican - Texas) David Schweikert (Republican - Arizona), Robert Woodall (Republican - Arizona), Madeleine Bordallo (Democrat - Guam).
US hides behind 'standard procedures'
As media reports that Khobragade was "strip-searched" after her arrest in New York threatened to escalate a diplomatic row between the two countries, the US suggested it had merely followed "standard procedures."
While "no comment" was forthcoming from the Indian side about these reports, attributed to unnamed sources about Khobragade, India's deputy consul general in New York, the US state department sought to pass the buck to the justice department and the local police.
"The state department's diplomatic security followed standard procedures during the arrest," spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters Monday when asked why the US was not respecting basic courtesies to a diplomat as it expected others to respect its own diplomats.
"After her arrest, she was passed on to the US marshals for intake and processing. So for any additional questions on her treatment, obviously, this would be the US Marshals and not us. I would refer you there," she said.
According to media reports, Khobragade, who was arrested in New York last week over alleged visa fraud and exploiting her housekeeper and babysitter, was not only handcuffed, but was later strip-searched in custody and made to stand with common criminals, drug addicts and sex workers by the New York Police.
On the question of Indian Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar and national security advisor Shivshankar Menon canceling their meetings with a visiting congressional delegation to show India's displeasure, the State Department spokesperson again sought to pass the buck.
"I think I'd probably point you to the congressional delegation to comment on that. I'm happy to look into what happened exactly further. I just don't know the details," she said.
Harf also made a distinction between "diplomatic immunity" and "consular immunity."
"Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Indian deputy consul general enjoys immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts only with respect to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions," she said.
"This isn't just in the US; it's all around the world. So in this case, she fell under that specific kind of immunity, and would be liable to arrest pending trial pursuant a felony arrest warrant," Harf said.
Asked about the US reaction to its Ambassador in New Delhi, Nancy Powell being summoned by the Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to protest about the treatment meted out to Khobragade, the spokesperson had no update.
Harf said that after the arrest the US assistant secretary had discussed the matter with the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Embassy, while "Powell has had discussions on the ground. I just don't have an update."
(With inputs from HT, PTI, IANS)
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