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BJP settles US scores

New Delhi, Dec. 17: The BJP’s tit-for-tat moment came wrapped in Section 377.

The party tangentially linked the treatment meted out by the US to Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade to the Indian government’s “unresponsiveness” to Washington’s denial of a US visa to Narendra Modi because of his alleged role in the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat.

A Facebook post from Arun Jaitley stated: “Diplomacy operates on the principle of reciprocity. In the past when an elected representative from India has been denied US visa, the government of India has taken it lying down because of its own sense of insecurity vis--vis the concerned elected representative. This has given to the Americans a signal that they can act unilaterally without attracting an adverse reaction from India.”

Jaitley counselled the Centre to act on the “principle of reciprocity” in the future. “If there is any infringement of a local law, be it even a municipal or state law by an American diplomat/consular official, we must waive off the immunity under the Vienna Conventions. Similarly, if we find the conduct of an elected US representative unacceptable in our subjective opinion, we must reserve the right to reject his or her visa application,” he stressed.

There was a vastly different sort of response from Yashwant Sinha, who was the foreign minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Sinha demanded that the Centre should arrest the homosexual companions of certain US diplomats/consular officials based in India after the Supreme Court recently re-criminalised gay sex and upheld Section 377.

“My suggestion to the government of India is, the media has reported that we have issued visas to a number of US diplomats’ companions. ‘Companions’ means they are of the same sex. Now, after the Supreme Court ruling, this is illegal in our country. Just as paying less wages was illegal in the US. So why doesn’t the government go ahead and arrest all of them? Put them behind bars, prosecute them in this country and punish them,” Sinha demanded.

The court has not declared homosexuality itself a crime. Action can be taken only if it can be proved that persons — of any orientation — have indulged in “unnatural” sexual acts. Sinha did not explain how he expects the police to get such evidence against the American diplomats and their “companions”.

India has always been in a quandary when it had to grant visas sought by the partners of gay diplomats. But so far, every such case was cleared, especially after Delhi High Court decriminalised gay sex in 2009.

Sinha apparently took a cue from BJP president Rajnath Singh who last week branded gay sex as an “unnatural act”. The RSS had associated itself with Singh’s stand.

The BJP’s chief spokesperson and Rajya Sabha MP, Prakash Javdekar, refused to add or subtract from Sinha’s comments that were played on TV channels. “He is a senior person who, in his wisdom, said what he did. Why should the party add to something a leader says?” said Javdekar.

Jaitley did not get into sexual tangles. He said India should reject the US’s “unilateralism in narrowing down the scope of diplomatic immunity” and invoked Article 31 of the Vienna convention to say that the only exceptions against diplomatic immunity were related to the civil and administrative jurisdictions.