29.12.2013 Author: Vladimir Platov

India and the US – a Strategic Partnership?

devyaniPresident Obama has recently called India one of the main partners of the United States in the 21st century, he also noted that India as a partner is of vital strategic importance to the U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region and around the Globe. The United States is one of the leading trading partners of India : the volume of bilateral trade has increased in four and a half times over the last decade and it amounted to $ 86 billion dollars in 2011 . The Indian investments in the U.S. has been skyrocketing over the last five years, they grew from 227 million dollars in 2002 to 5 billion dollars today. But how sincere are those words about the strategic partnership of the two countries or is it yet another attempt to use some other state for the good of the US policy makers?

The India-US relations have suffered a major crisis on 12 December, when the U.S. authorities approved the arrest and detention of Devyani Khobragade. Deviani is a 39-year-old, a Deputy Consul General of India to New York, yet she had to undergo through a rather unpleasant procedure before her own daughter’s eyes, she was taking to school. Despite the fact that the Indian Deputy Consul General had all the papers that entitled her to diplomatic immunity (she was an advisor to the Permanent Mission of India to the UN) with herself, she was handcuffed, taken to a local police station and strip searched. But obviously this wasn’t enough for the local authorities so they decided to take Khobragade’s DNA samples, as if she was a felon, and then she was finally sent to a camera with drug addicts and hardened criminals .

An arrest warrant issued by the U.S. Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman says that Devyani Khobragade is allegedly guilty of fraud in respect of her maid. Special agents assume she wasn’t paying the latter the “right” amount of money, for this “fellony” Hobragade may face up to 15 years in prison . Indian diplomat was released on bail of 250 thousand dollars only the next day.

The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has voiced a protest in respect of this incident as the United States have deliberately violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which specifies that the advisers to the UN enjoy “immunities from personal arrest or detention and from the seizure of their personal baggage”.

In response to this unfriendly gesture Indian parliamentarians and high-profile officials refused to attend a meeting with the U.S. Congress delegation that was scheduled beforehand. Certain Indian lawmakers have voiced an idea of arresting American diplomats who have a homosexual orientation and seduce Indian citizens and cohabit with them, since they are “corrupting their moral principles». Yashwant Sinha the head of the opposing Indian People’s Party proposed, in accordance with the recently restored Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code, to prosecute homosexual partners of American diplomats and to conduct show trials.

Following this incident, here was a number of measures that were employed by the Indian officials in regard of the U.S. Dimplomats. All of them were requested to return personal identification papers that provided them with diplomatic immunity. The U.S. Embassy was deprived of special security passes that allowed privileged entrance to the local airports. American diplomats were demanded to provide information on the salary rates of the Indians that are working in the embassy and the local American school , to make sure that they obey the local labour protection laws. In addition , the Indian side will carefully examine all the cases of employment of the U.S. diplomatic families members, since this kind of employment requires a special permit, but usually Americans violate these requirement in the better part of the countries they work in. On top of all the security barricades that were placed in front of the U.S. embassy in New Delhi, which is a common measure of protection against aggressive manifestations of the locals in all the Asian and the Middle Eastern American embassies, were removed.

The said incident has received a wide coverage in the Indian and foreign media. Various commentators and experts began to investigate the “strategic” nation of India- United States relations, citing numerous cases of neglect the U.S. government have shown towards India and its people.

A number of experts and analysts tend to mention the recent investigation the «The Hindu» magazine, that showed that India is one the main targets of the NSA. This agency has been collecting information on the Indian political leaders, scientific minds and intellectuals, by tapping their phones and reading their e-mails . This investigation shows that Americans intercept billions of messages that were sent over the Indian cellular networks and by the Internet. (March of 2013 alone shows a staggering number of 135 million intercepted messages). To date, the U.S. used two main programs for data collection : Boundless Informant and PRISM. First used to monitor phone conversations and the Internet networks in India , while PRISM gathered information using the capabilities of various U.S. tech giants .

Commentators also mentioning the role an American citizen David Coleman Headley played in the preparation of terrorist attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008. According to Indian journalists, the U.S. court has failed to provide Headley with an adequate punishment, even if fact that he cooperated with the prosecution is to be taken into consideration.

One can also remember the racist attitudes of certain American diplomats towards Indian citizens, the former show no signs of respect towards the representatives of ostentatious contempt for the individual members of Indian ethnic groups. An outrageous example of a such behavoir was shown by U.S. Vice – Consul Maureen Chao in August 2011, when she publicly called Tamils “dark and dirty”.

In addition, many correspondents provide examples of hostile and discriminatory attitutude of the U.S. officials towards the representatives of the Indian diplomatic missions to the United States. For example, in 2010 Indian ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar was searched in the Mississippi airport, despite the fact that she was enjoying full diplomatic immunity. Another representative of India, this time to the United Nations was also detained at an airport in the United States his he refused to remove his turban due to his religious believes (since he’s a Sikh). In 2011, the daughter of the Indian vice-consul in New York Krittika Biswas was arrested and spent 28 hours in jail on the suspicion of “bullying” her teacher via email. And the list goes on .

One of the reasons for the recent Washington’s assault on India, according to the expert opinion, is the eight years that has passed since the signing of a nuclear deal between the two countries. Over this period the U.S. nuclear companies tried to access the Indian market but the door was shutting in their face every time they knocked. The discontent about this fact was expressed in August of this year in a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by the two influential U.S. senators – Mark Warner and John Cornyn – co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus.

Against such a background the parliamentary elections in India , scheduled for May 2014 , and the future struggle between the ruling party Indian National Congress and the favorite in this race – the nationalist “Bharatiya Janata Party” , which adheres to the anti-American position, many experts believe there will be hell to pay if the incidents like the latest one are to take place. Indian public opinion seems to be reconsidering the nature of Indian relations with the United States . It is clear that the “assault” on Devyani Khobragade will deepen the “strategic nature” of this partnership, despite the statement made by Salman Khurshidby, the Indian Foreign Minister on December 19, according to which: “the sensitive incident will not have a lasting effect on the close relations between the two countries .”

Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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