Indian envoy leaves US as diplomatic row eases
NEW DELHI/NEW YORK – Reuters
Devyani Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on Dec. 12 and indicted on Jan. 9 before being effectively expelled. REUTERS photoThe Indian diplomat whose arrest and strip search caused a major rift in U.S.-Indian ties returned home on Jan. 10 after a deal in which she was indicted for visa fraud and underpaying her nanny but allowed to leave because of diplomatic immunity.
Devyani Khobragade, who was deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested on Dec. 12 and indicted on Jan. 9 before being effectively expelled. Her arrest set off protests in India amid disclosures that she was handcuffed and strip-searched.
The month-long dispute has soured the broader U.S.-India bilateral relationship, leading to sanctions against American diplomats in New Delhi and the postponement of visits to India by senior U.S. officials and another by a U.S. business delegation.
It was not immediately clear whether the return of Khobragade would be enough to dispel the bad feeling that has built up between New Delhi and Washington. With national elections due in India by May, political parties have seized on the case and labeled it an attack on national sovereignty. “We’ll focus on one day at a time, today is the day we focus on getting Devyani back,” said India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.
While both New Delhi and Washington stressed the importance of their bilateral relationship during the crisis, it has taken weeks of complex wrangling to find a workable solution both sides could live with.
Akbaruddin said Khobragade left after being granted full diplomatic immunity and was being transferred to a post in New Delhi.
Uttam Khobragade, her father, said his daughter rejected an offer of a plea bargain to resolve the dispute and be allowed to stay in the United States. Her children and husband, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin, will soon follow her to India, he said.
If the diplomat had accepted the plea bargain, the charges against her would have been dropped but she decided against it, he said. “Devyani said, this amounts to compromising the sovereignty of the country,” Uttam Khobragade said, noting that the dispute with the housekeeper was being dealt with by Indian courts.
Documents and statements from U.S. officials reveal a dizzying 24 hours in which the State Department granted Khobragade diplomatic immunity, unsuccessfully asked India to waive that immunity and ordered her to leave the country immediately.
India was incensed by the treatment of Khobragade and has curtailed privileges offered to U.S. diplomats in New Delhi. On Jan. 8 it ordered the U.S. Embassy to close a club for expatriate Americans there.
Also on the same day, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz postponed a visit to India scheduled for next week. This move came days after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal delayed her first visit to the country to avoid the trip becoming embroiled in the dispute.
The arresting authority, the U.S. Marshals Service, characterized the strip search as a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee.