Despite mutual overtures by India and the US to end the diplomatic storm raised by New Delhi over the public arrest of its consular staffer Devyani Khobragade in New York, the imbroglio continues, as the Indian government today withdrew all identity cards provided to US consular officials in the country.
A government spokesperson said India has decided to take firm "reciprocal steps" against the US consular staff in the country as an earlier deadline for surrendering the identity cards expired in retaliation for 'Khobragate', as a gate-happy Indian media has been quick to dub the issue.
"India has decided to take firm reciprocal steps following the end of the deadline for surrender of identity cards provided to US consular staff in India," the spokesperson said.
New cards which are replicas of those provided to Indian consulate officials in the US are being given in lieu of the withdrawn cards. Also, New Delhi has decided that no cards will be given to the family members of US consular officials, since that is not a courtesy extended to Indians in the US.
This will ensure strict reciprocity in terms of the ID cards being carried by Indian and US consular officials in each other's countries.
Further, acting reciprocally, US consular staff will now only be permitted duty-free imports their requirements during the first six months on assuming office as is provided in the Vienna Convention for Consular Relations. Previously, they were allowed to import their requirements over the three year period of their tenure.
Dismissing concerns about security of US diplomatic officials in India, government sources reiterated that India took its obligations under the Vienna Convention seriously and there has not been any loosening of security. However, there is no change in the security situation and all US diplomatic and consular officials are being provided security as before, they said.
The arrest of Khobragade on 13 December sparked a diplomatic storm between the United States and India, and led Delhi to a tit-for-tat reaction against US diplomats in the country.
Khobragade, who was arrested outside her daughter's school, complained that she was strip-searched and held in a cell ''with drug addicts'' until her appearance before a judge.
US prosecutors say Khobragade lied on a visa form about how much she paid her housekeeper and actually paid her around $3 per hour. She has pleaded not guilty to charges she submitted false documents to obtain a visa for the Indian housekeeper.
The UN spokesman's office said it received a letter from India's UN Ambassador Asoke Mukerji requesting Khobragade's registration as a member of India's UN mission on 18 December and it was processed within two days.
Khobragade could face a maximum sentence of 10 years for visa fraud and five years for making a false declaration if convicted. She has said she has full diplomatic immunity. The State Department disputes that, saying her immunity is limited to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions.