It seems that Indians even in the highest echelons of society do not understand how a law-abiding system functions. No matter how much is said about the ‘independence’ of institutions, the mindset of ‘preferential’ treatment for influential people just does not go away. This is why so much fuss is being made about the ‘treatment’ meted out to an Indian diplomat during her arrest in the US. India actually has laws in the statute books even discriminating between convicted felons, with various categories – the Lalus – getting to live in relative comfort in jail; that is not the case in the US. There are procedures everybody has to go through such as frisking, and the social status of a person is not taken into account when choosing cellmates. In fact, legal relief too is much better institutionalised, there with even the most humble of Indians enjoying protection under the law.
What India can rightly complain and make a fuss about is the denial of diplomatic immunity to its Deputy Consul. The matter needs to be pursued in a strictly legal fashion. If, as the US claims, there is no immunity for a diplomat in the kind of visa fraud that is alleged, the conventions need to be freshly established. After all, it is the same US whose diplomat shot dead two motorcyclists in Pakistan and, yet, got away scot free on the basis of testimony to his own bosses, instead of facing a police investigation. There are many cases of US diplomats committing all kinds of crimes in foreign climes – including snooping on government heads of friendly countries – but they remain out of the grasp of local police and intelligence forces.
It is true that there have been ugly incidents in the past when India diplomats have taken domestic servants from India and treated them like slaves. Once the system in the US becomes aware of such a case, it cannot overlook it, even if it is being cleverly exploited by the domestic to obtain immigrant status. As the diplomat’s father has argued, the ‘visa fraud’ was actually committed by the servant and the person who cleared her entry into the US. Basically, therefore, India needs to have proper legal representation to prove the obvious, instead of trying to counter the US on the basis of ‘rude’ behaviour. This would be a self-defeating exercise because America holds far more counters in the game than does India.
The government cannot have forgotten that there are an enormous number of Indians living in the US, in particular, the sons and daughters of the elite. Any ugliness exhibited here will have repercussions there. One suspects, therefore, that the hard line being demonstrated at the present is merely pandering to jingoistic sentiments at home, without any real substance. India’s insular policies have ensured that most countries have more ‘hostages’ available in any such stand-off. Remember the threat held out recently by the Nigerian envoy, which the Indians quietly swallowed because they didn’t have any other options? Instead of acting tough, they should exploit the psychology of the host community and play the victim – alleging race bias and underhand intentions, etc. It should leverage the clout of the ‘diaspora’, rather than discomfit US diplomats here. It is really strange that India refuses to use its moral clout against those who are most susceptible to it.
The government should take a lesson from this case and review the conventions and conditions under which its diplomats live abroad. Perhaps they should all be accommodated in hotel like establishments where the services are taken care of by a common staff, rather than each family having to maintain separate establishments. It should also review the salaries paid to diplomats, which should be more realistic. As it is, India has among the smallest diplomatic corps in the world.