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Spy effect, but on McCain

New Delhi, July 2: India has formally protested to the US after reports yesterday suggested that America’s National Security Agency may have spied on the now-ruling BJP, but tried to firewall its delicate relationship with Washington from any fallout of the controversy.

The ministry of external affairs today summoned a senior diplomat from the US embassy to demand an explanation for the alleged snooping and to seek an assurance that it would not happen again, senior government officials said.

“India has sought an explanation of the information contained in the press reports and an assurance that such authorisations will not be acted upon by US government entities, as far as Indian citizens, entities and the Government of India are concerned,” foreign office spokesperson and joint secretary Syed Akbaruddin said. “If such intrusions have indeed been authorised and have taken place, it is highly objectionable.”

But New Delhi, the officials said, had no intention to ratchet up tensions with the US following the revelations at a time the two nations are desperately trying to overcome months of acrimony and Washington’s complex history with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“These revelations have come at a really bad time and perception management will be critical,” a senior official told The Telegraph. “But both India and the US are mature enough to know that we need to focus on getting the relationship back on track, and not get sidetracked.”

Modi, denied a visa by the US in 2005, is scheduled to visit Washington in September for a summit with President Barack Obama that both nations hope will help settle differences that include tensions over the arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York last year.

The revelations, published in The Washington Post yesterday based on documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, shadowed US senator from Arizona John McCain’s trip to India that began today.

McCain, the senior-most US politician to visit India since the election of the new government, met foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, but pulled out of a scheduled meet with the media immediately after. He has sought a meeting with Modi tomorrow.

By the time McCain finished his meeting with Sushma, India had — at about 10 in the morning — summoned a US diplomat to register its protest. New Delhi refused to identify the diplomat who was summoned.

The US embassy does not have a full-fledged ambassador at present. Former envoy Nancy Powell resigned in April amid a bitter feud with India, and Washington is yet to appoint a replacement. The US has temporarily appointed career diplomat Kathleen Stephens as its charge d’affaires.