They make much of their success in projecting the country&’s interests and image to the rest of the world, but quite a few have been “selling India short”. It would certainly be unfair to slam all members of the diplomatic service as doing the nation reported disservice a la the wife of Ravi Thapar and Devyani Khobragade, but with official confirmation that 43 diplomats are under investigation for a range of misdemeanours in 17 countries over the past few years the overall picture is not exactly pretty.
In the spirit of true accountability the official spokesman of the external affairs ministry would do well to enlighten the taxpayer of the outcome of the probes, and the punitive action when necessary: if for no other reason than to dispel the impression that most of such matters are “diplomatically” hushed up. It would also be of much interest if the MEA disclosed some details of the probes, who were the complainants, did they pertain to financial irregularities, and how many of the persons under the scanner belonged to the “super-star” Indian Foreign Service? It would however take a lot more to convince people who have encountered difficulties abroad that the Indian embassies/high commissions are their havens – unless, of course, they sport a “VIP tag”.
What are particularly shameful are the cases originating from the abuse of domestic aides – the MEA went overboard at the ill-treatment of Ms Khobargade by the police in the US but curiously ignored the cause of the problem, her domestic servant&’s complaint of being treated disgracefully. And the “cover up” that had soured Indo-US relations could, possibly, have contributed to the more recent incident in New Zealand, which the MEA appears to have handled more efficiently by recalling Mr Thapar and also arranging for the complainant to return to the country. That there were a couple of previous incidents – one included alleged sexual harassment – adds up to a pretty dismal track record.
It would appear that senior diplomats enjoy the privilege of employing domestic help from India (at wages considerably lower than what prevails abroad), and then exploit them in much the same way that maids from the region are ill-treated in the Gulf states. It is the impression of India&’s “upper classes” that takes a hit, the aides have little hope of succour from the diplomatic missions. It is now imperative that the MEA puts in place a system – including a “help-line” – to which the domestic aides of diplomats can complain, and if they wish be assisted in returning home. It will be up to the Foreign Secretary to initiate the action; right now the stock of the External Affairs Minister has “crashed”, certainly in matters relating to the reclamation of moral high ground.