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India-US ties with gods

New Delhi, Jan. 13: India and the US will turn to the gods tomorrow to rescue their frayed relationship.

Senior Indian and American officials will meet publicly and demonstrate “goodwill” on Tuesday for the first time since the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade in December that triggered the worst spat between the strategic partners in decades.

But they will not be meeting to discuss the charges of visa fraud and wilful misrepresentation that hover over Khobragade, or her return to India after tense diplomatic exchanges between the nations.

Instead, India’s consul-general in New York, Dnyaneshwar Mulay — who was Khobragade’s boss till month ago — will meet officials of the US department of homeland security to receive $1.5 million worth of artefacts representing gods and goddesses. These artefacts were stolen from Indian temples and found by American authorities.

“It’s a simple goodwill gesture but one that assumes significance given the massive troubles in ties between the nations over the past month,” an official said.

The artefacts, from temples in Madhya Pradesh, include stone engravings of Vishnu and Parvati, Vishnu and Lakshmi, and of the Buddha.

Over the last month, the idea of officials from the department of homeland security — the equivalent of India’s home ministry — walking up to officials at Khobragade’s former office would have set off alarm bells in India’s foreign policy establishment.

But with Khobragade’s return to India, and a tit-for-tat expulsion of an American diplomat, New Delhi is keen to slowly test US resolve to work towards rebuilding the relationship.

“Ours is not a one-issue relationship,” ministry of external affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said today, in the first hint that India was willing to slowly re-engage with the US.

The tension in bilateral relations over Khobragade’s arrest has already forced the two nations to reschedule key dialogues they had planned months ahead.

US assistant secretary of state for South and central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal had to cancel her trip to India scheduled for January 6 because India indicated no officials would be willing to meet her.

Energy secretary Ernest Moniz was to land in India on January 15 for key talks with Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia on American shale gas blocks Indian companies are eyeing. Moniz, too, has put off his visit over fears of a humiliating boycott by Indian officials here.