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  Opinion   Columnists  22 May 2024  Dilip Cherian | Poll season revives Khobragade saga

Dilip Cherian | Poll season revives Khobragade saga

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Published : May 23, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : May 23, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Devyani Khobragade’s promotion sparks fresh debates in election season, while MEA probes real estate scandals abroad

Devyani Khobragade. (Image: ANI)
 Devyani Khobragade. (Image: ANI)

Election season is a time when every issue, no matter how long buried, is suddenly exhumed for public scrutiny. Enter stage right, the Khobragade saga. Just when you thought this episode had quietly exited, it returns, now with an encore performance thanks to Devyani Khobragade’s recent promotion to the Indian ambassador to Cambodia. This promotion, which those in the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), including experienced babus don’t consider worthy, is seen as a bit of a righting of a wrong.

For those who’ve forgotten, Ms Khobragade, a 1999-batch IFS officer, became the reluctant star of a diplomatic drama back in 2013 — one that brought India-US relations to a frosty low. Accusations of underpaying her domestic help in the US led to her arrest and a media frenzy. She cried foul, the US courts eventually nodded in agreement due to diplomatic immunity, and India sent her back home in a rare show of bureaucratic bravado, leaving the Americans with a diplomatic hangover.

Now just as we’re in the throes of a general election, Ms Khobragade’s name pops up again. This time, it is in connection with a glitzy photoshoot in traditional Cambodian attire for the country’s New Year celebrations, a sight that lit up social media like Diwali fireworks. Seasoned diplomats are treating her Cambodian posting with the kind of enthusiasm you’d expect for a cup of tepid tea — acknowledging it more as a token gesture than a triumph. But nothing like a general election to spring a surprise or two from a controversial past.

MEA probes shady land deals abroad

In other news from the diplomatic world, the MEA is knee-deep in an investigation over some shady real estate deals by Indian missions abroad. The MEA had told these missions, which were operating out of rented spaces, to buy land and build embassies. Some of these missions went on a shopping spree and ended up paying double or even triple the market value for the land.

All this would have stayed under wraps had it not been for the red flag waved by a team from Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) during a visit to one of these countries. The CAG discovered blatant violations of norms and confirmed that the prices paid were way above market rates. Now that it can’t be brushed under the carpet, the MEA is compelled to probe the dubious land deals.

But this is not an isolated incident, sources have informed DKB. Similar stories are popping up from other countries, and the MEA is now scrambling to get to the bottom of it. It is even looking at the possible involvement of some officers in South Block. To untangle the mess, two different MEA teams have been dispatched to go through the property deals made by the missions in the last decade. A forensic examination is underway. There are whispers about a turf war within the ministry, with different factions trying to outdo each other.

Whatever it is, all eyes are now on the ministry’s report on the findings which will soon be handed over to the competent authorities for action. The drama may have only just begun.

MP babus clash behind closed doors

A busy bee has informed DKB that chaos is reigning in a crucial Madhya Pradesh government department. Two IAS officers, appointed through their influential connections, are at loggerheads with the principal secretary. This infighting has plunged the department into disarray, rendering it incapable of dealing with important administrative matters.

These sources inform us that this internal turmoil has not yet become public knowledge, due to the model code of conduct currently in place. However, the conflict between the two senior babus is expected to escalate further once the model code is lifted. Both officers are reportedly eager to make a few questionable decisions, likely driven by the prospect of backhanders. In contrast, although opposed to any such dealings, their boss, the principal secretary reportedly suffers from indecisiveness, leading to several amusing anecdotes.

The situation will likely deteriorate and the principal secretary will probably bear the brunt of the fallout. Babus in Bhopal feel it is only a matter of time before he is asked to leave his current post due to the ongoing turmoil in the department.

Tags: devyani khobragade, indian ambassador, mea