As an Indian and as a keen follower of India’s foreign policy the past decade has been very depressing. India with all her soft power and some hard power is consistently absent at the high table of world affairs. Even when India’s interests are directly impacted (eg- Iranian sanctions) , India doesn’t have a stated position. A typical position is usually vague and non-committal. Even when there is a stated position it is hard to understand the logic behind it. It is hard to believe that this is the same country that was one of the main founders of the Non Aligned Movement. In the past few years I can think of two major incidents that I thought would make India get out of her funk and take a stand.

The first incident was related to the Mumbai attacks . When it became public knowledge that an American citizen, David Headley, was one of the key conspirators behind the Mumbai attack I thought India would take a stand against the US and demand for Headley to be tried for his charges in India or at the very minimum come to India and answer questions. This was after all India’s 9/11 and all bets were off. But nothing of that sort happened and Indian investigators were grateful for the access they got to Headley in the US. I find it hard to believe if any major power would have been so easily satisfied. The second incident is more recent and is related to Edward Snowden’s NSA allegations where it seems that the NSA was snooping not only on Indian missions abroad but also on India’s domestic politics and the country’s strategic and commercial interests. Maybe they also tried to snoop on Manhoman’s phone but gave up when they didn’t hear anything for long periods. But jokes apart, I  thought that this was a perfect opportunity for India take a stand like some other allied world leaders (Merkel and Dilma) and at the very least use it to extract some benefit out of this huge embarrassment to their American friends. Maybe they did extract something behind closed doors, but I doubt it. Add to this the fact that as an Indian living abroad I consider it to be my worst day to ever approach the Indian consulate for any assistance. I have approached them in the past for urgent personal reasons and was swatted out like a fly by a junior bureaucrat after he figured out that I didn’t have any influence. So I could be forgiven for thinking exactly what does this ministry of external affairs do when it doesn’t stand up for India’s strategic interests and doesn’t deem fit to provide a decent consular service.

In this context I find the whole incident of the Indian government throwing a tantrum over a diplomat being mistreated as really funny. It’s a case of a toddler throwing his toys out of his pram because his mother refuses to buy him an ice cream. This screams of incompetence at all levels. India didn’t see it coming and was not able to sort it out behind closed doors especially when it was obvious that the diplomat had given false information. Then as a reaction Indian government discovered that the American diplomats in India got more privileges than their Indian counterparts in the US and that family members of diplomats are working in India without a valid work permit. The press is even worse, no one is even questioning the Indian government of why American diplomats had been assigned privileges that go over and above what is required and whose was benefiting by giving out these privileges.

In India’s defence , India is only doing what any other country would do if their diplomat was caught in a similar situation. America should also be careful that if it starts to impose the letter (rather than the spirit) of the law to foreign diplomats then its diplomats , who travel like international royalty, have the most to lose. Without getting into the merits of the case, both sides are now looking desperately for a face-saving measure which lets both fulfill the spirit of the law and the diplomat is allowed to go back to India.

Maybe, this is the beginning of where India finally takes a stand on international affairs, but if that is the case then expect to hear a lot of shrill screaming first.

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