Our VIP abroad
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The charge against Devyani Khobragade is of visa fraud. As a diplomat at the Indian mission in New York, she is said to have misrepresented the work conditions of a woman on her household staff. For this, she has been called to account by local authorities. What can be exceptionable about that? Plenty, if at stake are the self-claimed immunities and privileges of India's elite foreign service. Heaven help any official in a foreign land if his execution of ordinary duties should pierce the cocoon of the Indian diplomat, be it a routine pat-down at an airport or an allegation of visa fraud. Indeed, heaven help India's pursuit of its national interest too! Because the political establishment is only too eager to be enticed into flag-raising theatrics in the diplomat's defence.
A lot of the privileges that diplomatic staff enjoy — by way of convention and law — derive from an older era. Then, as now, the endeavour was to shield a diplomat from coercive means by the host aimed at impeding her residence and conduct of duties in another, and possibly hostile, country. This objective, bizarrely, is currently the basis of claiming for diplomatic staff privileges that reek of the order at a feudal court — those exemptions at airport security, for example, and more worryingly, cover from prosecution for infringements of the law. Recall from the other side of the fence how unacceptable it is for Indians to countenance Italian requests for exceptional treatment of their marines while facing a murder trial. Contrast that with the absolute abandonment of sobriety, reason and responsibility in reacting to charges against Khobragade of visa fraud. To allow American pursuit of the rule of law on their territory to spiral into a diplomatic standoff speaks very poorly of India's foreign service and the politicians and officials in Delhi happy to play into notions of outraged national honour.
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