DIPLOMACY : THE DIPLOMATIC PROBLEM

DIPLOMACY : THE DIPLOMATIC PROBLEM

Date: 20 Jul 2015 07:44:45


Most of the locally recruited staff working in Indian Missions/Posts is vulnerable to pressures of local or third country intelligence agencies, and, in many countries they routinely report activities in Indian Missions to local or third country intelligence agencies. All Embassies are targets of spy operations, some by friendly countries and some by hostile countries.

The recent reports of pre-mature transfer of Indian High Commissioner Ravi Thapar from New Zealand to Delhi have brought back the public focus on administrative problems faced by the Indian Missions/Posts abroad. A section of media reported that Thapar was transferred to India to attend his ailing mother, whereas others reported that he was recalled post haste to avoid snow balling of this incident into another Devyani type affair, as Thapar’s private staff (cook) had complained to New Zealand police of slavery, ill treatment and assault by Thapar’s wife. Such incidents are reported from Missions of other countries too.
One may recall that an India-based staff of Devyani, the then Deputy Consul General of India in New York, had filed complaints of low wages and long hours of work, etc to the US authorities. Based on those complaints the US State Department made a criminal complaint against Devyani to New York Police. Consequently, Devyani was arrested and insulted by New York Police in total violation of various provisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. This incident adversely affected the Indo-US bilateral relations, though temporarily. One may recall that Sangita, the staff of Devyani, had travelled to USA on official white passport, as under Article 47 of the Consular Convention requirements of US work visa were not applicable.
As per media reports, six complaints against officials in Indian Missions were received in 2012, 2010 and in 2013, and 27 in 2014. It is reported that 43 officials are being investigated spread over 17 Missions/ Posts. Some of the complaints are against junior officials and some against locally-hired staff. There are over 180 Indian diplomatic Missions and Posts abroad having thousands of personnel and administrative problems pertaining to staff keep coming up for variety of reasons irrespective of the political party running the Government in India. Therefore, total number of complaints against staff of Indian Missions is still small, though increase in numbers is basically due to tighter discipline and supervision.
Indian Missions/Posts function under direct supervision of the Ambassadors/High Commissioners/ Consul Generals without any day-to-day administrative interference by the Ministry of External Affairs. In administrative matters, the MEA comes in picture where the Mission/Post refers a matter to Delhi, or, where a complaint is made to MEA by outsiders, or, by the host Government through its Embassy in Delhi.
The tradition in the Ministry of External Affairs is that all proposals for postings, transfers, promotions and disciplinary actions are first processed in the respective Foreign Service Boards and, thereafter, put up to Minister concerned for formal approvals. Therefore, political interference in postings and transfers is minimal in the MEA and negligible in matters of discipline and promotions.
The Missions/Posts are staffed by four classes of personnel. First, diplomatic officers on red colour diplomatic passports; second, India-based non-diplomatic officials on white colour official passports; third, India-based administrative staff on white colour official passports such as cooks, domestic maids, drivers and security guards, etc.; and, fourth, locally recruited staff. There are two categories of diplomatic officers—one is called RG officers who are eligible to entertain local VIPs on government account, and, non-RG diplomatic officers who cannot do so.

Some officers face enquiry for allegations of misuse of entertainment grants, whereas some face dereliction of duties as in any other government office. In Missions, every reporting to Delhi is time bound, as Missions have to compete with internet media and 24x7 television channels and some officers are just not temperamentally able to cope up with this demand inviting verbal pull ups from the Ambassador. These are routine for any government office and mostly remain confined in government files.

To prevent recurrence of Devyani and Thapar type incidents India should take effective steps. Rather than doing fire fighting in individual cases the best way is to insist at policy level with all countries that as per Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations laws of host governments shall not apply to India-based officers and staff working in Indian Diplomatic and Consular offices and their residences.

While dealing with complaints against Indian Missions/Posts Indian media should not forget that sometimes complaints are planted by hostile intelligence agencies or elements hostile to India just to waste time and energy of a Mission and the MEA. There are dedicated anti-India lobbies who would like to defame India even on small pretexts. Also most of the locally recruited staff working in Indian Missions/Posts is vulnerable to pressures of local or third country intelligence agencies, and, in many countries they routinely report activities in Indian Missions to local or third country intelligence agencies. All Embassies are targets of spy operations, some by friendly countries and some by hostile countries.

To prevent recurrence of Devyani and Thapar type incidents India should take effective steps. Rather than doing fire fighting in individual cases the best way is to insist at policy level with all countries that as per Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations laws of host governments shall not apply to India based officers and staff working in Indian Diplomatic and Consular offices and their residences. Laws of host countries must stop at gates of Indian Missions/Posts and at gates of all residences unless specifically waived off by the Government of India, as sending State, in individual cases. 
It should be clarified that only the MEA and the Indian courts shall have exclusive jurisdiction over all disputes between Indian officials working in host country in Indian Missions/Posts on Indian diplomatic and official passports. The Chief of Protocol and the Joint Secretary (Consular) in the MEA should address all Diplomatic Missions in India and seek their acceptance of this general principle keeping in view that reciprocity is the essence of good diplomacy and international relations.
OP  Gupta, IFS (Retd.) (The writer is a former Indian Ambassa-dor and also served as Joint Secretary, Consular, Passports and Visa, in MEA)

(July 12, 2015 Page 17-18)