India on Tuesday set in motion an array of retaliatory steps against U.S. diplomats based across the country for the manner of arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York, signalling the escalation of an unprecedented bilateral row.
The government asked all U.S. consular officers to turn in their identity cards and the entire American diplomatic corps their airport passes while senior Congress leaders snubbed a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation for the second straight day by refusing to meet it.
The government also ordered the Delhi Police to remove concrete barricades on public land and roads that have existed for years around the U.S. embassy, sought salary details and bank accounts of all Indian staff employed at the missions and stopped all import clearances for the U.S. embassy, especially for liquor.
The government’s action was backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which urged the Centre to “match each and every step of the U.S., to take serious action in this matter to establish Indian sovereignty and prestige of its diplomatic community.’’ Talking to newspersons, BJP leader Ravishankar Prasad also took a dig at the government by saying the U.S.’ actions do “not accord to the level of friendship that the Indian government claims to have with the U.S’’.
“We will deal with them exactly the same way they are dealing with us. Not anything more, not anything less. While the U.S. doesn’t provide many courtesies to our diplomats, we go out of the way not to withhold those facilities. If they are downgrading what we are entitled to as diplomats, they will also get the same treatment. This way we will both be going strictly by the rules,’’ said an Indian diplomat encapsulating the method behind the day’s activity.
“We have put in motion what we believe is an effective way to address this issue, protect her dignity. We have communicated the essence we feel in diplomatic terms and also due to the human element,’’ said External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.
After Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar refused to meet the five U.S. Congressmen on Monday, Congress vice- president Rahul Gandhi and Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde declined to meet them on Tuesday in protest against handcuffing and strip search of diplomat Devyani Khobragade over a contractual issue with her help.
BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi also tweeted saying he had declined to meet the Congressmen in solidarity with the diplomat.
These “reciprocal steps” would “convey a clear message that this kind of treatment of a diplomat is unacceptable,’’ said government sources handling the dispute. The former External Affairs Minister and BJP leader, Yashwant Sinha, called on the government to expel all gay partners of U.S. diplomats.
Dr. Khobragade was arrested last Thursday.