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HindustanTimes Mon,24 Nov 2014

United for common interests

Lt Gen Harwant Singh (retd), Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, December 21, 2013
First Published: 09:30 IST(21/12/2013) | Last Updated: 09:33 IST(21/12/2013)

There are certain associations and cozy clubs in India where members unite when one of them is threatened with charges of wrongdoing or when there is a common interest involved.

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Thus, opposing parties in Parliament and state assemblies, who would otherwise fight bitterly on issues of national importance, but at variance to their party interests, unite when common interests are involved, be it the case of unjustified increase in their pay, allowances, pension and perks or keeping the source and extent of party funds outside the purview of the Right To Information (RTI) Act.

When the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chargesheeted an IAS officer in the Coalgate scam, a delegation of the IAS officers' association lodged a protest with the Prime Minister, claiming that the officer was very honest (a sort of self-certification) and was being victimised.

The officer was the coal secretary in the ministry when all kinds of irregularities took place and after a short 'cooling-off period,' he took a job with a coal company. The IAS association can see no impropriety in all this! Perhaps, it is a common practice in this play of quid pro quo!

India's over-reaction

The recent case where an Indian diplomat in the US was arrested, searched and locked up resulted in immature over-reaction from the Indian government. The entire foreign service has, in one voice, condemned this action of the US state department.

As per the report of US attorney, "Ms Devyani Khobragade was extended courtesy well beyond what other defendants are accorded. She was arrested in a discreet manner and not then handcuffed, nor was her phone seized and she was allowed to make numerous phone calls, and was searched by a female officer in a private setting, as is the practice in all such cases in the US."

The charges against Khobragade are, "One, visa fraud in which she wilfully and knowingly did make, under oath, and under penalty of perjury under Title 28, US code section 1746, and subscribe as true a false statement with respect to material fact in the application. Two, she is charged with wilfully and knowingly falsify, conceal and cover up by 'trick scheme and device' material facts and made materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement."

These are serious charges, and as per US laws, fall outside the normal diplomatic functioning. Unlike India, no one is above the law in the US.

It may be recalled that US Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were hauled over the coals, one for what came to be known as Watergate, and the other for the Monica Lewinsky affair. In Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), one saw a policeman challan the sheriff's car for wrong parking.

The Indian government's case rests on Article 40-42 of the Vienna Convention, whereas the US contention is that Khobragade's unlawful act(s) are outside diplomatic functions.

All in the family

Devyani Khobragade is the daughter of Uttam Khobragade, a 1984-batch IAS officer. His name figured in the Adarsh Housing Society (AHS) scam. He has been accused by the CBI of helping the AHS to use higher FSI (floor space index) and permitting transfer of adjoining plot reserved for the BEST bus depot. It is alleged that both he and Devyani had got a flat each in this society as quid pro quo.

She already has a house in Mumbai and the same was allotted under the state government's 10% reserved quota. Besides this, she has 10 other properties, inherited from father or purchased.

If you happen to visit India's consular office in Manhattan for any work, be prepared to be treated shabbily and face rude behaviour from the Indian staff. Those who have served with our diplomatic missions abroad will tell you of the false claims being routinely prepared.

The reader may recall that when the rules of body search of passengers at Indian airports was first put out and the list of those exempt from such a search published, it did not include the three defence services chiefs and this was no simple error or omission but for a purpose!

India's response to this episode has been most inappropriate, immature, cozy-club and undiplomatic.

Diplomacy is not a strong point of our foreign service. Remember the time when one of our top diplomats publicly called members of the Indian Parliament headless chickens.

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