Khobragade row: India must try good-cop, bad-cop approach with the US

The latest scandal of the US suddenly arresting an Indian diplomat and humiliating her should cause the Indian government to learn how China and other countries operate from a position of strength. It is unfortunate that the Indian authorities seem to focus only on the technicalities of her arrest as if the main problem was merely procedural.

It is horrific enough that she was arrested outside her daughter’s school in order to maximise the sensationalism, then subjected to sexual cavity exams (though this has been denied by the US Marshal Service), and placed in a cell with criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers. The bail, set at $250,000, is at a level typical for hardcore criminals.

Devyani Khobragade. AP

Devyani Khobragade. AP

Clearly, Preet Bharara, the US top prosecutor in charge, lived up to his reputation for wanting to make a political career by hitting at high profile targets (including an abnormally large number of Indians). I anticipate another Bobby Jindal in the making here.

It should also shock Indians that New York Times, CNN and other supposedly “liberal” US media have constantly brought in guests and experts to parrot only one side of this story over and over again. The framing of the story is of human rights abuse by elitist Indians; and these Indians must be taught to be treated just like everyone else in the US – because, after all, “we Americans” are the world’s beacon of egalitarianism, are we not? This plays well as what is known as “atrocities literature” of the “frontier” people – explained in my book, titled, “Breaking India”.

The blatant racism that usually remains well hidden has been forced to come out not only in print and TV media, but also on the internet buzzing with this controversy. Many white Americans cannot help rubbing their hands in glee at Bharara’s action. They cite irrelevant points like how Indians are robbing them of jobs, how Indian civilisation is inferior to the West, how India ought to be indebted to the US as its big brother and benefactor, and so on.

The anti-Hindu stereotypes that I have been trying to expose for 20 years, and which many Indians want to deny or claim are no longer applicable in this "flat world", have all of a sudden shown their ugly head. Let this be an opportunity for Indians to learn.

Regarding the allegations against the Indian diplomat, one must note that such abuses are very common among diplomats everywhere — as much in New York as in Delhi and elsewhere. Of course, this does not justify any such abuse. But it points to the arbitrary and draconian action taken in this one case as if to make a public statement. Every law can be applied in a wide range of levels of severity, from extremely harsh for one’s worst enemies, to very mild application for friendly situations.

This particular application of the US law, even if one assumes all the charges to be valid, which I am unwilling to assume, is at the harshest level one has seen it ever used in similar cases. By contrast, India has applied its policies towards US diplomats in India at the most friendly end of the spectrum – and certainly well above the level of privileges enjoyed by Indian diplomats in the US. It is vital for India to firmly downgrade US diplomats’ privileges to the same level that Indian diplomats enjoy in the US.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that Indian households do not treat maids like “employees” in the American sense where rent, food, entertainment, holidays, gifts, cable TV, etc would each have to be paid by the employee. A decent one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan easily costs $2,000 - $4,000 per month plus utilities, and food is not cheap in Manhattan. Indian domestic servants are given these things free whereas American employers operate more formally at arm’s length. Even after factoring all this, I assume the compensation was less than officially claimed. But such labour disputes typically get sorted out as civil cases. The plot here runs much deeper.

The maid, an Indian Christian whose relatives had close connections to the US embassy in Delhi, was being secretly nurtured by the US government for some time, and her family given a special visa and moved quietly to the US a few days before the arrest. All this is far too much importance to be given to a maid in US society if this were an ordinary case. If Bharara really wanted to help poor Indians, this approach has hardly made any such impact.

The question to raise is whether the maid was an intelligence asset either from the very beginning, or turned into one after the Indian government tried to take action against her through US authorities. Through access to her employer’s laptop at home, and by other means of surveillance, her profile would certainly fit the pattern of NSA and CIA operations. The overly aggressive protection by the US and the help given secretly to send her family to USA make this question very important – and the Indian external affairs ministry’s talk of conspiracy suggests that they know something we don’t.

Contrast this drama with the fact that Bharara has not subjected any other minority community women to such insulting treatment. This is largely due to the heavy Muslim lobbying in the US to respect Islamic sensitivities in dealing with their community, especially women. Indians have never pressed for cultural sensitivities because of their pride of being “assimilative” and hence, the “same” (ie potentially white). Cultural difference embarrasses many Indians except in the safety of events with other Indians only. Especially when it comes to projecting a Hindu identity in such matters, the Indian is likely to hide his inferiority complexes behind “secular” masks.

There is a much broader pattern in India’s servility than just one isolated event. India failed to take strong action against the US when it was denied access to David Headley, an acknowledged mastermind in the Mumbai terrorist attack by Pakistan. It pleaded like a child and settled for the crumbs offered by Uncle Sam. When Wikileaks exposed widespread US espionage against India, once again India felt awkward and scared to have a direct faceoff with the Americans.

By contrast, Brazil, Germany and others took the matter seriously and let the Americans experience their anger. When Pakistan wants to express its disapproval to the US, it abruptly stops Nato supply lines to Afghanistan, and ultimately it always ends up in the driver’s seat. China’s audacity in putting the US in its place started decades before China’s economic and military rise, and hence China commands and deserves American respect.

India has behaved like an American doormat and pleaded for merciful treatment as a reliable satellite and junior partner of the US.

The core problem is that Indians simply do not understand the psyche of Americans in the same manner as Chinese, Pakistanis, Russians and many others do. Indians in positions of importance – in diplomacy, media, industry, spirituality, etc – tend to suffer what I have called “difference anxiety” from the West. They would rather not claim their own distinct selfhood. Indians have failed to gaze back at the West through their own lens and for their own vested interests in the same way as most other major nations and civilizations do.

The challenge is that the politically correct, pseudo-secular posture has made it impossible to articulate any such thing as an “Indian civilisation” in the first place. All such claims at a unified, coherent Indian civilisation get attacked as chauvinistic and anti-minority (because the exclusivist Abrahamic religions of many minorities cannot respect Indian civilisation’s tenets).

My forthcoming book, titled, Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity (Harpercollins, 2014), scheduled to be launched in India in January, 2014, deals explicitly with this issue of “who we are” as Indians. Though the British left decades back, the colonised minds of Indians in important posts has merely shifted to the nexus across the Atlantic – from London to Washington, DC.

Given the overwhelming defeat of India’s ruling party in the recent elections and its likely debacle in the forthcoming general elections, this is an important window to demand strong action in dealing with this situation. India must appoint a Good Cop team and a separate Bad Cop team to deal with the US. These are terms every American with a basic knowledge of history is taught, and I explained them in a book, “Invading the Sacred”.

The Bad Cop team could comprise RAW, CBI and a tough Indian prosecutor to investigate and arrest US diplomats who violate or take liberties with Indian laws, and to apply the same harshness that was faced by India in this case. The Prime Minister or someone else can play Good Cop, but never interfering with the Bad Cops who are merely performing their “jobs” under Indian laws. Meanwhile, it would be important to limit this fight to the US government and not let it impact relations between businessmen in both countries. Indians must know that many US businesses also have their own serious problems with their government and would gladly side with India as allies.

American media, however, is aligned with their government stand in this case. Indian think- tanks have their work cut out if they want to start seriously studying the US complexities on Indian terms.

Rajiv Malhotra is the author of Being Different, and a regular blogger on The Huffington Post. You can access him through his twitter handle @RajivMessage, on Facebook - RajivMalhotra.Official, and the following weblinks: www.BeingDifferentBook.com; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rajiv-malhotra/;  and http://www.firstpost.com/author/rajiv

Published Date: Dec 20, 2013 03:57 pm | Updated Date: Dec 20, 2013 04:01 pm