Custody row: Norway egg now all over Delhi’s face


After reacting for three months to shrill TV debates — lodging protests with Norway, issuing frequent official statements, summoning Oslo's ambassador and despatching a special envoy to that country — India beat a redfaced retreat today, saying it can no longer "interfere" in the custody row of the Indian children because the situation has "changed".

The government tried to extricate itself a day after the ugly fight between the children's Norway-based parents became public, and it was reported that Anurup Bhattacharya — the father of three-year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya — had filed for divorce, accusing his wife Sagarika of beating him.

Today, however, PTI quoted Anurup as saying that despite some "unavoidable" domestic circumstances, he had not sought a divorce. And in Kolkata, Sagarika's father told The Indian Express that Anurup had told him that news of the problems in their marriage was "canard".

As realisation dawned that it might have escalated a family dispute to some sort of diplomatic incident, the Indian government put off the planned visit of its diplomat to Norway.

Minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur said, "The government has tried its best to bring the children home so that they have a future in the country. But a new situation has developed... we cannot interfere. The visit of a joint secretary (to Norway) has been postponed."

Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said, "At this point, the version we are getting has changed. We are relying on our embassy to contact everybody for a more substantive report. But there are also elements of this, which is within the family. I think it would be best for the government not to step in and make comments on what the family is doing."

For the last three months, however, South Block has been doing exactly the opposite. Its playing to the gallery included External Affairs Minister S M Krishna having a telephone conversation with his Norwegian counterpart about the children. Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj and CPM leader Brinda Karat joined a demonstration by the children's grandparents in Delhi, and BJP MP Tarun Vijay sent a teddy and chocolates to Norway for them. Consider:

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