Devyani Khobragade has been indicted by a US grand jury, while at the same time granted diplomatic immunity. This will allow her to return to India without the danger of arrest or imprisonment. In that she has been ‘extracted’ safely, the Government of India has stood by its diplomatic corps. Hopefully, all possible assistance will be provided to her in fighting the case in the US so that her name can be cleared and the charges dropped. All this, because she is a diplomat, and entitled to immunity out of respect for the Republic of India. As an individual, however, her service must hold an inquiry into the allegations made against her. It should also take corrective action, if needed, against her and the circumstances that placed her in legal jeopardy; otherwise the embarrassment is likely to be repeated in the future.
There are hundreds of millions of Indians who have not been to the United States, do not intend to and never will. It would not have mattered if Khobragade never set foot on the soil of that country ever again and pursued her diplomatic career in other parts of the world. Unfortunately for her, she has her immediate family there, which has complicated matters. As things go, despite her humiliation, she will most likely prefer US resident status for her husband and children than shifting them to India.
Such is the relationship between India and the US! A large section of the Indian elite is deeply invested in the American way of life. Apart from the Uncle Toms who serve the US with such alacrity as newly inducted citizens, there is a large number in India that links its future more with that country than India. There are very few who would prefer to live and work in India if given a chance to move to the United States. So many have lived the best life this country could offer and chosen to ‘give back’ to the US. This is the soft (and hard) power that America exercises around the world. There is potentially a ‘fifth column’ that it has in every country, willing to do its bidding.
Indians would have been justified in thinking that the Diaspora would play a role in equating the balance of power vis-a-vis other countries – that it would be the guarantee of good relations. Unfortunately, as evident from the Devyani episode, even a powerful Indian community such as in the US has not been able to win respect for its country of origin. It seems Indians are too busy currying favour for their individual selves than thinking of the greater good. There are, in fact, some groups that have made a career out of ‘delivering’ India in various ways to their masters.
There was a time when India had considerable ‘soft power’ of its own. A large number of Americans of consequence had an empathy for India, either through the liberal education they had enjoyed in the great universities, or because they had spent an important part of their youth backpacking through India. They not only understood Indian culture, but also the country’s importance in the global perspective. Ambassadors such as John Kenneth Galbraith, apart from doing their job, had the capacity to communicate back to their governments the Indian point of view with great understanding.
It is unfortunate that knowledge of India is no longer required as a prerequisite for high office in the powerful nations of the world. It is a direct loss to India – a result of its strategic failure – but also to those countries as well. If Barack Obama has a blank space in his mind where India ought to be, it’s also a problem for him and his country. The only positive at the present is that after the present low, Indo-US relations can only get better.