Is There More To L’Affaire Khobragade Than Meets The Eye?

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One would think that the country’s finest should represent India overseas, particularly when it comes to dealing with the lone superpower, U.S.A., with whom India is endeavouring to build up a special relationship, arguably more beneficial to India than to the U.S.

Consider now, some of the information which has come out in the public domain about Devyani Khobragade, the mid-ranking Indian consular staff in the New York office who was recently arrested on multiple charges, which led to a furore and considerable outrage back in India.

Now, check some of these facts out:

Adarsh was a co-operative housing society formed supposedly for Kargil war widows and Indian war veterans, but considering it stood on some of Mumbai’s most expensive real estate, politicians and bureaucrats made a beeline to grab flats by making a mockery of the law. When many read about Devyani and Adarsh, and given middle-class India’s utter frustration with India’s endemic corruption, many gleefully said the US arrest was payback time and karma had worked. Whether karma works or not, things have just gotten worse for Devyani and new revelations may mean that the Indian government’s vociferous defence of Devyani and actively fanning flames to bring things to a boil may actually be something that may come back to burn India.

First up, while earlier Devyani’s involvement in the Adarsh scam was just a serious allegation, a respected commission set up to investigate Adarsh has now said in its detailed 670-page report that Devyani furnished false information to own a flat in the Adarsh Co-operative housing society. She had falsely claimed that she did not own a flat anywhere else at the time of her application for Adarsh membership, the commission has said, according to The Indian Express. “Devyani told the Commission that she owned the Jogeshwari flat only in 2005. This statement is false since the 2004 application MEM-392-A mentions her to be a member of the society (Meera), which she said she would resign from when she gets the Adarsh allotment,” the report says, according to the newspaper. Worse, she also sold her earlier government-allocated flat at Jogeshwari for Rs 1.9 crore and possibly at a fat profit. To be exact, the Adarsh Commission report was rejected by the Maharashtra cabinet considering it also raised serious questions on the murky doings of past Maharashtra Chief Ministers, one of whom is India’s current home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

On Sunday, the Times of India carried another story that brought another skeleton tumbling out. India’s Supreme Court had noted that the rules for allotment of foreign language to Indian Foreign Service officers on the basis of their rank in the select list was changed only for Devyani’s batch in 1999 to ensure she got her chosen language. According to the ToI, the Supreme Court noted this in a judgment while reinstating a dismissed IFS officer Mahaveer V Singhvi in Devyani’s batch, and imposing a fine of Rs 25,000 on the Union government for wrongfully terminating his services. The article quotes the SC bench of then Justices Altamas Kabir, J M Panchal and Cyriac Joseph as saying, “The Union government and ministry of external affairs have not been able to satisfactorily explain why the rules/norms for allotment of languages were departed from only for the year 1999 so that the Singhvi was denied his right of option for German and such choice was given to Khobragade who was at two stages below Singhvi in the gradation list…The mode of allotment was amended for the 1999 Batch in such a calculated fashion that Ms Khobragade, who was at Serial No.7, was given her choice of German over and above Singhvi, who was graded at two stages above her.” Singhvi’s lawyer Jayant Bhushan has alleged that the unwarranted change in rules for which the Union government received a slap on the wrist from the Supreme Court was done thanks of Devyani’s father Uttam Khobragade’s IAS and political connections.

Read more at: This article in Firstpost

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Regarding the outrage in India this is what a recent article had to say:

In fact, a lot of rubbish has been written—and spoken on national television—about diplomatic immunity in this case. First of all, Khobragade was not a diplomat—she was part of consular staff. (Now, of course, with the Indian government coming to her rescue by assigning her to India’s permanent mission to the United Nations, she’s acquired full diplomatic immunity). The relevant diplomatic provision that applied to her was not the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations but the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. It is only the 1961 Convention that grants absolute immunity to a diplomat from the jurisdiction of the host country. The 1963 Convention grants immunity only in respect of official acts, not personal ones.
The US’s legal case against Khobragade is to do with her personal act, not something she did in her official capacity as the deputy consul general for political, economic, commercial and women’s affairs at the consulate general of India in New York. So the focus needs to be on the case itself, and unlike what prime time pseudo-nationalists would have you believe, it is not one between the US and India, but between two women, neither of whom is more Indian than the other.
Khobragade is a millionaire. She owns a flat in Mumbai’s Adarsh housing society, 30 acres of farmland in Maharashtra, a 5,000 sq. ft plot in Alibaug, and another plot in Noida. And she works in the Indian foreign service. Her salary might appear modest compared with the US minimum wage, but she was no more entitled to an Indian nanny in America than the nanny in question, Sangeeta Richard, was entitled to American wages in America—which, incidentally, she legally was entitled to. If Khobragade did not want to pay her the minimum wages as per the law of the land, she had multiple options.
One, she could have chosen not to go for a posting that did not allow her to maintain a lifestyle of her choice. Two, if she wanted the New York posting so badly, she could have opted to do all the domestic work herself. Three, she could have chosen not to take Richard along with her to US, and instead hired a part-time nanny in the US in keeping with her budgetary constraints.
But she chose none of these perfectly legal options. Instead, she pursued a course of action that involved, according to the chargesheet framed against her, visa fraud, perjury, falsification of documents, and exploitation of another Indian woman in a foreign land, which is pathetic considering that her official duties in the US also involved being an upholder of women’s rights.
Anybody who cares to read the full text of the complaint against Khobragade can only wonder how she hoped to get away with her actions, which amounts to a felony under US law. Does diplomatic immunity mean diplomatic impunity?
 Here are some more facts which don’t quite seem to add up. For a full backgrounder on l’affaire Khobragade, check out this entry from Wikipedia.

As per the reports she is all of 39 years old, which would mean that she was born in 1974. Assuming a 3 year pre-school, 2 year kindergarten, and 10 year schooling, she would have finished her schooling in 1989. Then after two years of junior college, she would have been eligible for admission to medical school, which takes one to 1991. The medical undergraduate course is a four and a half year course which needs to be followed up with a one year mandatory internship, which would take one up right up to the year-end of 1996 at least, considering the typical start times for the undergraduate course during the 2nd half of the year.

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Since she is said to have graduated with the 1999 IFS batch, she would have then joined the IFS batch in 1996. Now, if she finished her internship right during the end of 1996, she couldn’t have started her course for IFS much earlier in the year during 1996.

Alternately, she either never  completed her internship by the end of 1996 at the earliest or, if she did, she may not quite be someone who completed her IFS with the 1999 batch.

She apparently paid Rs.11.8 million for an apartment in Adarsh which she wasn’t even entitled to buy in the first place. The father, Uttam Khobragade has been involved in every possible scam on earth from BEST Land Scams, the Cadbury ban because of worms (likely an extortion racket), the Adarsh Land scam, the King Long Bus scam and the diversion of Rs 340 million in Tribal Welfare to name a few. This is possibly just a little peep into how illustrious the Khobragade family is. Some of these details can be read in detail in this Moneylife piece.

In her Linkedin profile, Devyani lists her job function as ‘law enforcement’. Yet, at the time of her arrest she was the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs. From law enforcement to Economic & Commercial affairs is quite a jump isn’t it? One wonders whether that was the only slot available in the New York consulate?

Has anyone ever wondered why the govt. of India, together with the IFS officials, are so hell-bent on kicking up a ruckus about someone who should have been normally suspended from service for some of the irregularities and untruths she has been involved in so far?

What may also puzzle many is why Devyani’s husband, Dr. Aakash Singh Rathore, a U.S. citizen currently based in New York, has hardly made any statements regarding this whole issue and seems to be keeping a very low profile deliberately. He has apparently done stints in Germany and Delhi in the past. According to some other reports, Devyani herself has done two stints in Pakistan, one in 2005 and the other in 2008. A brief profile of the two can be read in this report from the Washington Post.

Is there a lot more to this than meets the eye? Why are some publications hinting at intelligence alliances betweeen five nations, NSA links and linkages with some of the UIDAI implementation partners. Read this article in Moneylife for the full details.

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  1. #1 by Roshan Vyas on January 20, 2014 - 10:36 AM

    Reblogged this on Roshan's Blog ♥.

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