Monday, January 20, 2014

Reflections on the Khobragade Affair

As the Khobragade affair recedes from the headlines Indians and Americans, especially those outraged by the actions of the other side, need to engage in crisis-level introspection on the moral-political landscape we occupy.

This is necessary because in both India and the United States we are in great danger of losing the national narratives that make us unique carriers of the human future. 


In an atmosphere dank with unscrupulous greed, the Indian power elite seem to have forgotten the lesson of thousands of years of experience: that Truth is the only safe guide in life, that the sole pursuit of material gain can only direct us into ever more delusive and treacherous terrain. The general corruption brought on by that amnesia has seeped into every institution.

The Khobragade affair shows the insidious result.

How could a bright beautiful person like Devyani Khobragade, in the highest quality national service we have, even dream of actions that could bring the accusations the Americans leveled against her? This is not a matter of legal guilt or innocence. Where was her sense of honor?

Honor is a deeply personal matter but it is also of profound national importance. India cannot defend and promote the precious freedom won by the sacrifice of many generations if our elite are without honor. If the private conduct of top politicians and bureaucrats exposes them to blackmail or if they are greedy enough to betray their country for profit, we will not be able to escape Britain’s economic vampires and all our hopes of a fair and just society will be castles in the air.

Honest people considering this situation should know they have the power to change it. The moral tone of our national life reflects the fact that in every institution at every level honest people have responded to the corruption of colleagues by lowering their eyes, choosing not to confront evil because it would disrupt their lives. This is the primary reason why the level of malfeasance is so high in the country. If honest people put their foot down, if the corrupt know their own co-workers will hold them to account we would not need Lokyuktas and prolonged court proceedings to fix guilt or clean out the scum.


In the United States, the Khobragade affair should focus introspection on why law officers pursued a working mother with such fierce zeal while filing not a single criminal charge against anyone at HSBC or Standard Chartered for massive, serious and multi-year violation of American law.

For exaggerating the income of a maid and making her work long hours for low pay, the US Attorney in New York leveled multiple criminal charges against an Indian diplomat who had full immunity.

For allowing $16 trillion (yes, trillion) in bank transfers that included a great deal of money from Latin American drug lords, HSBC was fined. Standard Chartered deliberately ignored American sanctions on Iran to process payments that certainly included funding for terrorists. It too was fined.

In contrast to the public and egregious humiliation of a Dalit woman on an Indian salary that is a pittance by American standards, the White multimillionaires at the British banks got discreet kid glove treatment.

This disproportion is no small thing.

It points to how far the American social and polite elite have taken their society from its place at the forefront of the democratic and egalitarian revolutions in human affairs. The wealthy curled darlings at HSBC and Standard Chartered were just too powerful to be treated equally before the law.


The Khobragade affair has done serious harm to Indo-American relations.

On the Indian side, there is incomprehension of how senior American officials could meet with their Indian counterparts the day before the arrest and not say a word. That has rekindled Cold War era distrust of official America.

In the absence of any explanation or apology, distrust will not be the only lasting element in future Indian responses to the United States. There will be a justified perception that Washington regards India with a degree of self-righteous arrogance that verges on contempt.


Anonymous said...

"verges on contempt"
I hope you are not joking. Verges?

You cannot show more open contempt for India, its government, its judiciary, its society.

Minutes after shaking hands with our Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, Pakistan lover Kerry was getting large iron shackles and DNA swabs ready for our diplomat.
You want to trust these people?!

India should and will part ways. We are not allies or friends. We are not enemies either. India is much weaker than the big bully.

India should minimize or cancel some of the defence contracts with US and try to get more from Russia and other countries.

Bhaskar Menon said...

Ted Folke commented on my Facebook page.
Ted wrote: "Cannot comment on the Indian side of this affair, but point on the disproportionate nature of the American justice system these days is spot on, and this was but one of many recent cases in which an individual was subjected to judicial abuse and brutal treatment for what seemed a lesser transgression than the grand larceny comitted by banks and other financial instiutions like HSBC.And, of course, the issue of diplomatic immunity is not trivial - in this case, the American authorities should have quietly notified the Indian authorities and asked the Indian diplomat to leave the country - as used to be done in espionage cases. Can understand Indian outrage!:)"

DesiInTokyo said...

You are quite naive,trusting and apologetic when it comes to analysis of American actions as different from British ones. Why ?

Bhaskar Menon said...

Don't see where I have been "naive, trusting and apologetic." But you are quite correct that I use a different measure for the United States and Britain. One is a democracy, the other has been for several centuries the head of an international criminal system.