Indian diplomat Devyani Khorpagde’s arrest in New York will not in itself strain relations between the two countries, but could impair the ties severely by alienating those driving it – her colleagues.
Indian diplomats posted in the US and outside reacted with outrage over the arrest, with a few openly demanding a retaliatory response.
Others said the arrest – rather the way it was carried out – would make it difficult to find diplomats to serve in the US. “No one would like to serve here,” said a senior diplomat.
Khorpagde, the deputy consul general at the consulate in New York, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly lying on the US visa application for an Indian national who worked for her as a domestic help, and taken away handcuffed.
The Indian ministry of external affairs termed the incident shocking and appalling and summoned US ambassador Nancy Powell to tell her the incident was completely unacceptable
Charge d’Affaires in Washington DC Taranjit Singh Sandhu followed it up on Friday, reinforcing the message in multiple interactions with the US state department.
“It was also conveyed (to the US) in no uncertain terms that this kind of treatment to one of our diplomats is absolutely unacceptable,” said the embassy in a statement.
Khorpagde’s colleagues were less diplomatic. “We should prosecute the spouses of US diplomats in New Delhi working in the American school there without valid visas to work in India,” said a diplomat.
It could not be immediately confirmed if Americans require work permits to work on what is technically US territory. The American School is on US embassy premises."Or should we wait for a Raymond Davis kind of incident," said another diplomat, adding, "We are not Pakistan, and we don’t accept blood money."
CIA contractor Davis was arrested in Pakistan in 2012 for killing two people. He was released after a protracted stand by paying off his victims’ families.
The US said on Friday it hoped the incident would not have any bearing on the relations with India, but did little else to address India’s concerns.
Khorpagde’s colleagues said the US knew of the legal proceedings she had launched against the domestic help, who had gone missing in June.
“She (the help) came here on a contract,” said an Indian diplomat familiar with the case, “and if she felt underpaid, she should have returned to India.”
The help, identified by the embassy as Sangeeta Richard, went to the authorities instead, alleging Khorpagde paid her less than the US wages she had promised her.
US attorney for the Southern District of New York, India-born Preet Bharara, announced charges against Devyani, alleging she made false statements about salary and employment terms of Richard. The charges carry prison sentences ranging between five and 10 years
The case against Khorpagde, as announced by Bharara, the diplomat never meant to honour Richard’s employment contract.
In actuality, Khorpagde, according to US investigators, had signed a second contract with Richard offering her a much lower salary.
The help started working for Khorpagde in November 2012, according to the US attorney’s office. And she went missing in June, says her employer.