A maid in Manhattan: two sides of a story

Unfortunately, both the Indian and American media decided to pick sides on l’affaire Devyani Khobragade. India-US relations have been reduced to the sort of chest-thumping that may have well suited diplomatic links in prehistoric times. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.
By Anirudh Bhattacharyya | Hindustan Times
UPDATED ON DEC 27, 2013 10:57 PM IST

A recent Australian study has suggested that Neanderthals spoke like us. After spending several hours watching televised debates on l’affaire Devyani Khobragade, I believe we owe an apology for this libelous theory.

Depending on which media you consume, you were likely to veer from the jingoistic to the sanctimonious. There are always two sides to a story, and, unfortunately, both the Indian and American media decided to pick sides instead.

Here’s what I learnt of Americans: They’re racists, hypocrites, the CIA is planting moles in the homes of Indian diplomats, and the US attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara is an Uncle Tom. Here’s what I learnt of Indians: They’re elitist, entitled, feudal, exploitative human traffickers with a judicial system that can’t be trusted.

Beyond adding obscure clauses of the Vienna Convention and words like egregious to public debates, the handling of the deputy consul general makes one wonder if America has truly turned into a nanny State.

Pretty much each discussion was punctuated with references to bottoms, whether rock bottom, or scraping bottoms. Indo-US relations apparently are in such a frenzy of touching bottom, that you’d think these bilateral ties are being managed by fetishists.

The bottomline, though, is that there’s been a gradual race to that bottom.

In ancient history, or the first year of US President Barack Obama’s first term, his administration’s first State banquet was for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in late 2009. While pretty postures and pleasant platitudes were exchanged at the dinner, most people probably recall that event courtesy the gatecrashing Salahis, who conned their way to a seat at the table. Another uninvited guest, who like Banquo’s ghost, hovered over that repast was 26/11 conspirator David Coleman Headley, who was interrogated by Indian investigators later.

However, despite repeated requests to have him extradited to India, the chances of that actually occurring are as plausible as the force of gravity reversing when it comes to Justin Bieber’s sagging career and his trousers.

Four years later, in the first year of Obama’s second term, his administration’s version of hospitality has morphed to an offer, the sort you can’t refuse, of coffee and cavity search.

In that interim, there’s been an unsettling sense of drift, a relationship floating on an ocean of indifference, though buffeted on occasion by the US ignoring India while crafting its Af-Pak policy or rewarding Pakistan with a $7.5-billion handout or scapegoating Indian companies on visa utilisation.

There was some plain sailing, for instance, when in November 2010, Obama supported India’s ambition for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. That gesture though was heavy on symbolism and light on substance, since UN reforms of that nature remain as realistic a possibility as Miley Cyrus joining a convent.

Meanwhile, the US National Security Agency was busy sucking up data from Indian missions, cloning hard drives and intercepting messages, thereby bringing a new meaning to keeping channels of communication open. It seems light years since a critical breakthrough was achieved in the bilateral arena when the prime minister and then US President George W Bush announced the Indo-US nuclear deal.

In essence, the relationship has been reduced to the sort of chest-thumping that may have well suited diplomatic links in prehistoric times.

The Neanderthals, according to one hypothesis, went extinct as they lost the competition to coexist with the earliest humans. Never mind. We’ve returned to the times of the cavemen (and women), though instead of grottos they populate our airwaves.

As we head into a New Year, there’s always the hope of a turnaround, though one starting at the bottom involves an uphill climb.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal

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