India's Reaction to Kobhragade Arrest - Excessive, Unbecoming of an Aspiring Superpower
Similarly, if you happen to be a leader of the BJP that just won all of the four elections and is expected to win the 2014 General Elections, you are left with no choice but to search for a tougher line than your opponent, howsoever ludicrous, even if it may undermine the foreign policy your previous government and leaders worked tirelessly for.
And of course, if you happen to represent the most despicable face of India's identity based politics, you make it a Dalit issue and hope enough of your followers remain dumb enough to keep voting for you. Mayawati, obviously did not know that Devyani Khobragade achieved a rank of 168 in her civil service examination which does not get you into the IFS unless you happen to enjoy the special privileges of belonging to the SC/ST category.
The above largely sums up why India (The Government, Media, Social Media and the Chattering Class) reacted the way we did on the arrest and strip search of a diplomat by the US. Cheap domestic political interests overpowered the larger foreign policy interests of the Nation.
It goes without saying that the treatment handed out to our diplomat was heavy handed and we needed to express outrage and take it up strongly through the official channels. But by stripping down the security barriers, taking away diplomatic privileges of the American consulate members, imposing a ban on import of food and liquor for the embassy staff, raising calls for arrest of homosexual partners of the embassy staff and our leaders refusing to meet the visiting American delegation, we have ended up far exceeding American Arrogance with our stupidity. The way American police reacted is of course not how you treat the diplomat of any country, at least not that of a country you project as a strategic ally but you also don't act the way we did when you keep staking your claim to be the next superpower and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Devyani Kobhragade is a seasoned bureaucrat having been in the IFS since 1999. She is the daughter of a retired IAS officer. She, of all people, must know not to violate the law of the country in which you are posted. When you declare 11 immovable properties on your profile including an apartment in the Adarsh Society and happen to be the 2nd highest ranking official at India's Embassy in the US, the least you should be able to afford is to pay minimum wage to your baby-sitter. You decide not to do it because at some level you believe yourself to be above the law and consider a domestic help helpless. Or perhaps because you could use all your political connections and might in evading prosecution in the Adarsh Society scam, you tend to assume immunity for acts of corruption.
Devyani moreover is not the first Indian diplomat to have exploited their domestic help in the US. We have had two of our high ranking diplomats in US accused of the same in the recent past, one having been ordered to pay as much as US$1.5 million in penalties.
Washington Post (Link) , New York Times (NYT Link) and Financial Times (FT Link) have published their opinion pieces on the events largely holding India at fault. Their editorials are read by global audience which helps shape the perception of our country overseas. The image that emerges of India from this episode is of a country that does not care or respect the laws and is willing to throw its weight behind the dignity of a dishonest diplomat while showing no concern to the plight of the domestic help who may be the real victim here. Salman KHurshied in his interviews on the television dealt another blow to our reputation by saying our diplomats underpay the domestic helps all the time and that is not really bad. His interview paints the image of us as a country where as long as violation of a law happens all the time, it is OK and while law may be same for everyone in letter, its implementation is different for different people.
Germany didn't react the way we did at the news of US spying on Merkel. Even we didn't react the way we have done now when Snowden's leaks showed NSA spied on Indian Embassy. The reaction this time is purely an outcome of political posturing for garnering momentum at the cost of jeopardizing foreign policy. Our leaders do that all the time - we have lost an ally in Sri Lanka due to Tamil Politics at home and we are increasingly loosing allies in our neighborhood for lack of vision and tactical oversight in our foreign policy setup.
Once again, I am not saying what US did was right - they could have asked India to remove Devyani or accorded her more courtesies before putting her through an arrest. A strip search could have clearly been avoided. But our reaction has clearly absolved the US from its misconduct. The US government can express regret for the cause of larger relationship while their legal system keeps its head high for passionately defending the law of the land. We on the other hand emerge as a country that claims to be a superpower in the making but plays the victim card at the slightest of opportunity. Perhaps our government, politicians and media would do well to realize, it pays to be tactical and strategic in foreign relations rather than oscillate between being a lap-dog or a wild cat.