Sighs of relief were audible in the corridors of South Block once Devyani Khobragade returned to India. Her arrest and strip search in New York had become a cause célèbre that threatened to wreck the relationship between India and the United States of America which had been so assiduously nurtured over the last two decades and is seen by the present prime minister as one of his more enduring legacies to India. Ms Khobragade was arrested in December on charges of visa fraud and lying to US authorities about how much she paid her Indian housekeeper. The treatment meted out to her angered the Indian government, which decided to hit back at the US government by withdrawing some of the privileges that US diplomats enjoy in India. The government of India won some kudos as its actions were seen as a refusal to succumb to bullying by Uncle Sam. The government of India’s position, as articulated by India’s foreign minister, Salman Khurshid, is that ham-handed action on the part of the US State Department security had provoked the crisis. It was no more than a storm in a teacup that could have been avoided if the US had warned senior Indian officials in Washington or visiting the capital. The diplomat could easily have been withdrawn and no scandal would have ensued. Since no such warning was given, unnecessary bad blood was created and a deal had to be struck through formal and informal negotiations. The deal allowed Ms Khobragade to leave the US perhaps with her head held not too high since she has been indicted by a federal grand jury.
This incident — storm in a teacup or not — actually suggests that in India, friendship with the US has rocky foundations. There is no denying that India’s retaliatory measures against the US were very popular in the country and there was a general consensus that the treatment of Ms Khobragade was both unfair and unjustified. There was no sympathy at all for the US. While it may be true that in this particular case, the US got what it deserved, what the reactions pointed to is the prevalence of strong anti-US sentiments within India. These have long roots obviously going back to 1971 and to the US’s support to Pakistan over a long period. The US suffers from a goodwill deficit in India. Incidents like the one concerning Ms Khobragade only increases the deficit.