New Delhi: The unfortunate incident concerning the Indian consul in New York must be understood and grasped at two levels. One pertains to the incident itself and the second to larger India-United States’ relations.

However much we may choose to downplay it, a case of visa fraud is clearly made out against Devyani Khobragade. She had scarce business paying less than what was committed in writing to her nanny in the United States which having fought and outlawed slavery views such misdemeanours as a serious crime. Also, this writer has no sympathy for the Indian Foreign Service which has signally failed to advance India’s interests abroad.

But the United States has grossly overreached itself too by humiliating the representative of a foreign state. A consular officer is subordinate to a diplomat but nevertheless enjoys some immunity, and certainly immunity in this case from arrest and from the subsequent indignities heaped on Khobragade, a young mother with small children whose husband was not in station. At the most, she should have been asked to return to India and the country warned against future visa manipulations.

The Indian government’s response to this episode has been proportionate. It has withdrawn certain special facilities given to United States’ consulate staff which should not have been extended in the first place. Now is the occasion to retract them for all foreign missions functioning in India. India must permit no more than is proffered to its envoys abroad. India is no longer a Third World nation although many in the present government hold an inferior opinion of the country which foreign states exploit. At the same time, India’s retaliatory measures against the United States must not compromise the security of American diplomatic assets, whose responsibility entirely devolves on the Indian state.

However, this writer does not see any immediate or satisfactory resolution of the crisis, because the United States is an arrogant and headstrong power, and has become accustomed to Indian genuflection on a wide range of matters, for which again, the Indian Foreign Service largely is to blame, but this is not to limit the culpability of politicians from the ruling and opposition parties that believe that high office is obtained in India solely by keeping to the right side of America. Which leads to the larger issue of India-United States’ relations, which must be reviewed rising above the Devyani Khobragade episode and reaching into the past.

The United States is a transactional power. Its geography affords it the luxury of periodic isolationism and its great power status enables it to practise exceptionalism which is a euphemism for naked and egregious unilateralism. No United States president, however liberal he may proclaim to be, can alter these vicious characteristics of America, which run contrary to the grain of its wonderful people. Barack Obama and John Kerry whose liberalism includes trucking with the terror state of Pakistan came close to bombing Syria on falsified intelligence of chemical weapons’ use and it took gutsy Vladimir Putin of Russia to stop the warmongers in their venal tracks. Possibly only Russia and China have the understanding and the means to challenge American domination and hegemony which has made the world a very dangerous place since the end of the Cold War. In its rise, India has much to learn from Russia, with the caveat that, in the end, every country is responsible for its own destiny, and this is a cardinal lesson that this nation has long forgotten, assuming that it ever learnt it.

Long before Manmohan Singh dreamt that the United States would make India a great power based on the fraudulent assurances of the then visiting American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, Atal Behari Vajpayee had spoken of his country and America as being “natural allies” because of their shared commitment to democracy. Possibly the dire need to win breathing space for India post the Pokharan-2 sanctions compelled the prime minister to indulge in such artful shamming, but after the United States’ Iraq war, Vajpayee abandoned the pretensions when he exhorted Pakistan to settle the differences with India to save from American unilateralism, which the Pakistanis, naturally, never paid heed to. The drone programme is what Pakistan has fetched in prize together with blood money for ceding its core sovereignty to the United States.

But Manmohan Singh, never a learner, benefitted nothing from Vajpayee’s experience, looking towards America in the like manner of a desperate immigrant catching the first sight of the Statue of Liberty steaming into New York harbour. Not only did he throw all caution to the wind by signing the nuclear deal at the cost of abandoning the indigenous three-stage power programme which would have secured India energy-wise for at least 400 years, he disastrously also took Rice at her word, refusing to think for himself that no state makes another a great power. It rides against natural law. The Left in the meanwhile prevented the full optimization of the India-United States defence framework agreement which would have compelled Indian participation in amoral American unilateralism, but by then, Manmohan Singh was so blinded by admiration of and devotion to America that he made the appalling statement that “Indians love George Bush” or words to that effect.

There wasn’t a time when Manmohan Singh wasn’t travelling to the United States to meet Bush and subsequently Obama, leading to caustic commentaries in this magazine. Inevitably, this mental slavery took its toll on disputes related to Pakistan, where under United States’ pressure, India has been forced into a fruitless and destructive peace dialogue with a terror state. On the other hand, the United States has not relented on its core interests, for example, refusing custody of David Coleman Headley who played a key role for the Lashkar-e-Toiba in the 2008 Bombay terror attack. Some months ago, this magazine revealed that the ministry of external affairs pestered the White House to grant a lunch meeting for Manmohan Singh with Barack Obama, in exchange for which the transactional American government wrested fast-track Indian purchase of United States’ military equipment. All in all, the United States has treated India as a wretched third-rate mendicant nation, and Manmohan Singh, his ministers and their officials have stood for it. So how surprising can Devyani Khobragade’s abject humiliation get?

But that is scarcely all. The United Progressive Alliance has used the United States to settle scores with Narendra Modi and hobble him in the race for prime minister. This is nothing short of treachery. As soon as the United Progressive Alliance came to power, Modi was blacklisted in America. The withdrawal of his valid United States’ visa became a stick to beat Modi with, and even when it was obvious that the Gujarat chief minister had no inclination to reapply, leading questions were posed about it periodically to sundry United States’ state department officials, doubtless at the prompting of New Delhi, to prolong the affront and the injury. The United States government, venal as it is, played on these differences, provoking mirth and merriment in high quarters in the Congress party. When you encourage foreign governments to disparage and denigrate elected representatives -- and surely the Indian Foreign Service played a disgraceful role in this -- it is only a matter of time before such contemptible conduct expansively targets the charmed circles. With the Devyani Khobragade incident, the chickens have come home to roost. When the national security advisor speaks of the barbarism attending the Indian consul, he needs reminding that he maintained shameful silence when Modi, an elected chief minister, was repeatedly insulted by the United States. To his credit, Narendra Modi has stood with the government in this crisis, but the United Progressive Alliance regime stands cruelly exposed.

As India goes to the polls next year, the electorate must take into account that the United Progressive Alliance has eviscerated the country in the foreign policy and strategic spheres. India faces grave peril in the neighbourhood from belligerent China and its proxies and it stands lowered in the eyes of the great powers. In the post-Cold War world, strategic competition is crippling, and the winner takes all. Under the present leadership, India is singularly incapable of winning its rightful place in the sun. In strategic leadership, China is generations ahead, and revelling alternately in victimhood and television nationalism will sink this country. It is, therefore, imperative that Devyani Khobragade’s distressing and tragic ordeal is separated and shielded from the critical matter of India’s strategic build-up, where a determined thrust alone will reclaim national honour.

Editor’s note: There are internal reports that Devyani Khobragade refused to be coopted by United States’ intelligence agencies which retaliated by “fixing” her in the nanny case. If so, India must broaden the retaliation against America, and hold out the threat of expulsion of United States’ covert services’ personnel, whose spying in the national capital, anyhow, has reached dangerous proportions.