Envoy’s recall raises more questions than answers

Venkat Raman – 

The decision of the Indian government to recall its High Commissioner to New Zealand Ravi Thapar last week against a woeful backdrop of alleged assault on a domestic servant by his wife Sharmila has raised a number of questions on the conduct of diplomats and other members of the Indian Foreign Service during their deputation abroad.

Some members of the Indian community, expressing their ‘disappointment,’ said that they had seen ‘something like this coming,’ since, according to them, “The High Commissioner had managed to upset a large number of people, including some people not in obscure positions of authority in the host government.’

However, a number of people supported and continue to support Mr and Mrs Thapar saying that “they were among the finest couples they had known.”

Extreme step

Mr Thapar returned to Delhi with his wife on Monday, June 29 and will certainly face an internal inquiry, for, apart from his wife, he also faces a charge of threatening to assault the domestic servant.

Recalling a diplomat, no less the head of a mission, is considered an extreme step, rarely used by the External Affairs Ministry of the Indian government. This has occurred only once in the case of New Zealand – in March 2006, when the then High Commissioner Harish Dogra was asked to return home; he refused and a red-faced Delhi impounded his passport, declared him persona non grata and had him escorted out of New Zealand.

Mr Thapar did not suffer such embarrassment. He obeyed his government’s order. He said that he was breaking his tour of duty in New Zealand prematurely (he has just completed half his term of three years) to tend to his mother who lives alone in Dehradun, the capital city of the State of Uttarakhand, about 240 kms from Delhi.

Staff abuse

A number of sources told Indian Newslink that Mrs Thapar was known for her ill-temper.

Mr Thapar earned the chagrin of many, including the corridors of the government and the Beehive with his views on Free Trade Agreement, ‘New Zealand Inc’ and its marketing strategy and related matters.

Police complaint

It is understood that the chef at India House left the precincts on or about May 9 and was found in a state of distress in Wellington, about 20 kms away from Lower Hutt and that a passer-by took him to the nearest Police Station where the man filed a complaint.

A notification issued by the New Zealand Police said that the victim told them through an interpreter that he wished to return home.

“He did not want to take the matter further. He was provided with legal advice and appropriate welfare support, while the Police sought assistance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to facilitate the matter. Police also made a request through the appropriate diplomatic process to interview the relevant High Commission staff. However, this was declined and Police were unable to take the matter any further with them.

“Police in the interim also assisted the man with access to appropriate support services, until arrangements were made for his return to India. He left New Zealand on May 28. On this basis, Police will not be investigating further. No arrests have been made in relation to the allegations. Subsequent welfare checks made by Police with the man in India confirmed that he was fine and happy to be home,” the notification said.

Allegations denied

Denying the allegations, Mr Thapar said that his wife was incapable of assaulting an ‘able-minded man.’

“This man had absolute freedom to walk away and to do whatever; we trusted him. The man wanted to concoct a story but did not succeed,” he said.

But Indian Newslink understands that the victim’s passport was in custody of the High Commissioner and hence ‘could not have done whatever he pleased.’

Indian Newslink will publish further analysis in its July 15, 2015 issue. Meanwhile, we invite our readers to peruse our Editorial, ‘Indian diplomacy hits another low’ under Viewlink.

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