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Outrage at ‘insult’ unites Houses

Khurshid, Mulayam

, New Delhi, Dec. 18: Parliament today protested the treatment to diplomat Devyani Khobragade even as the Opposition accused the government of not taking a strong stance against the US when Indian leaders and officials were “insulted” earlier.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid led the calls for denunciation. “This is no longer about an individual, this is about India’s presence in the world,” he said, replying to a debate on the issue in the Rajya Sabha.

Khurshid sought to reassure the House further by declaring that India “will intervene effectively and specifically to ensure that the dignity of the diplomat is preserved”.

The minister listed the steps his ministry has taken to send an “unambiguous message” to the US. These included removing barricades near the US embassy in Delhi and revoking many of the privileges enjoyed by American diplomats. He said such steps had never been taken against any country.

The minister denied suggestions that India was “over-reacting,” saying Khobragade’s arrest and subsequent mistreatment did not happen out of the blue. “We are not overreacting, history fortifies our position.”

Similar outrage was seen in the Lok Sabha, with members across the aisle slamming the US for “insulting” India.

Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav raised the issue and demanded a resolution condemning the US. “It is not just the insult of a woman but also the country. America should apologise and the Lok Sabha should pass a resolution condemning the treatment meted out to the diplomat,” Mulayam said.

He accused the UPA government of turning India into a “soft” state. “Our important people are repeatedly insulted in the US in the name of security. We should treat US citizens the same way.” The BJP’s Sushma Swaraj echoed Mulayam’s call for a resolution.

Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was frisked at Delhi airport by the staff of an American airline when he was travelling to New York two years ago. Former defence minister George Fernandes had claimed he was strip-searched twice at a Washington airport while on an official visit in 2002.

Meera Shankar, the Indian ambassador to the US between 2009 and 2011, was subjected to a “pat-down search” in December 2010 at Mississippi airport, even though she was travelling on a diplomatic passport. The US authorities had said she was searched as she was wearing a sari.

In the Rajya Sabha, leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley said it was time India insisted on being treated like equals. “If we conduct foreign policy in a manner that we’re taken for granted, then these incidents will be repeated. We need to introspect where we stand on foreign policy,” the BJP leader said.