Court hands out a ‘diplomatic’ victory
The dismissal of a case filed against the former acting Indian Counsel-General in New York by a federal judge in New York will be widely seen as the vindication of the Indian stand on the issue. The US judge said that Devyani Khobragade, whose arrest and stripsearch by the US authorities had triggered an India-US standoff, was covered by the provisions of diplomatic immunity and thus could not be prosecuted.
India had consistently maintained that the diplomat enjoyed immunity. The US position that as a consular officer, she has limited immunity, has, however, not been overturned by the court, since the judgment is based on the immunity that the officer was granted as a member of the Indian mission to the United Nations.
While the judge has dismissed the case, the federal prosecutors can still file another case against Khobragade, who they accuse of misstating facts on the application to request for a work visa for her maid and of lying about the amount of the pay she would get. Khobragade, however, maintains that the maid was trying to blackmail her.
Others point out to how US officials helped the maid’s family in fleeing India. Even as they evaluate the case, the prosecutors are aware that the officer is no longer in the US, and the hamhanded way in which she was charged and arrested led to unprecedented damage to Indo-US relations. India and the US have worked hard in the interim to improve relations. Now that the court has removed a major irritant, the US may well consider not raising the issue again.
Diplomatic relations are built on reciprocity, and the last few months have shown the negative side of this principle as the US Embassy found some protective concrete barriers removed, and its diplomats found themselves without a number of privileges that were previously accorded to them. It is time to move on, and to allow this incident to become a footnote in the continuing stream of Indo-US engagement.