Moving beyond business, if one was to look at other areas in the
bilateral relations between India and the US, then the Devyani
Khobragade issue was definitely one that became a major stumbling block
for meaningful progress in their ties. And for this, the US government
and the ministry of external affairs of India should both be blamed. If
the US “mishandled” the Indian diplomat and treated her like a “common
criminal,” then the jingoistic reaction in India contributed to its
snowballing into a major controversy. While the American government was
being blamed for the humiliation of the Indian diplomat, the fact that
she had also violated a domestic law in the US was totally ignored and
brushed off the Indian table.
If, in this drama, Powell is to be blamed then it is perhaps for the
decision of one of the US diplomats in the consular section to give a
visa to the Indian maid Sangeeta Richard’s husband and children to
travel to the US even as a case against her was pending before the
The US diplomat involved in the consular section was since
withdrawn and taken back to Washington. But some of the Indian
decisions that include stripping US diplomats of special privileges and
removing the barricades from in front of the embassy in Chanakyapuri,
remain in force.
The third reason being cited for Powell’s removal from the post is
because of her handling of Gujarat chief minister and BJP’s prime
ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. The US continued to be the last
“holdout” among western diplomats to engage with Modi. Even though the
European Union ambassadors broke their post-Godhra moratorium of
engaging with Modi, the US embassy in Delhi only decided to do so early
this year after all the others.
By all indication, Nancy Powell’s departure from the scene may allow
the US to re-set its relations with India. But it may soon find out that
making a scapegoat of Powell only solves half its problem relating to
India. The other half may well prove to be much tougher to resolve in
the coming days.