New Delhi: When you are overseas, you are drawn to news from India. A friend on a short assignment to Oman sought comments on the Devyani Khobragade case. The Indian Foreign Service officer has been suspended from duties for speaking to the media and failing to disclose that her children were American citizens.

This writer’s first response was to blame all three parties to the case which roiled India-US relations one year ago, namely India, the United States and Devyani. On second thoughts, perhaps, the bulk of blame should go to the Indian government which permitted a climate to develop that led to the embarrassment.

Visa fraud is a serious issue. India may not take it seriously but that does not change it. As a consular officer in New York, Devyani was paying her Indian maid less than her commitment. In American law, this is slavery. Didn’t the Indian consulate in New York and the embassy in Washington know this? Devyani couldn’t have managed this sleight by herself. She was following precedents.

Why did the Ministry of External Affairs permit this situation? A country representative must begin on a clean footing. If an Indian diplomat on posting cannot pay local rates, they should forgo help. You cannot break the law to maintain Indian standards of living. The foreign ministry was very wrong to condone it. If diplomats cannot function abroad without help, they can stay at home.

It was because government regulations weren’t tough and inflexible that officials like Devyani Khobragade bent it. Unfortunately, she was the one to be caught. Her sense of entitlement was so enormous that she threatened the maid with pre-emptive lawsuits in India. What emboldened her? The conviction that the government would protect her as a country representative.

Her subsequent mistreatment at the hands of law-enforcement officials is shameful. She wasn’t given the smallest diplomatic courtesies and strip-searched to boot. She alleges cavity search which New York authorities deny. Once again the Indian government deserves blame. By not compelling its envoys rigorously and righteously to uphold local laws, it permitted the US to treat Devyani like a habitual offender.

Blame attaches to India on another count. It tolerated a liberal environment where foreign diplomatic privileges were misused here. To retaliate for Khobragade, the Indian government took punitive measures against the US embassy in Delhi and its consulates elsewhere. Diplomatic and consular movements were restricted in sensitive places. Mission security was scaled down to appropriate levels. A blocked road at the rear of the embassy was reopened. Commercial activity within the embassy was banned. Spouses of diplomats were barred from illegal employment.... The list is long.

The question to the government is this. Why did it permit these illegalities in the first place? Other countries’ missions have complained of the special concessions to the US embassy from start. Why didn’t the Ministry of External Affairs enforce the same rules for all? You cannot let a bully get away. When India acted tough after the Khobragade incident, the US realized it had overstepped. The ambassador lost her job.

The lessons from this are simple and direct. Don’t break the law; and don’t permit others to break it. The Indian government has tightened rules for domestic help overseas. It must simultaneously bring all foreign missions here on par without exception. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a stake in deepening relations with the United States. He would try to give a special welcome to his Republic Day guest, President Barack Obama. But remember that a country does not gain respect and prestige by crawling before another.

Meanwhile, the burden of rocked Indo-US ties one year ago must not entirely be placed on Devyani Khobragade. The Ministry of External Affairs is being vindictive against her. She and her family have suffered the most and deserve a show of grace.