Arvind Kejriwal arrest: Indian American community leaders caution both India and the US to maintain harmonious ties

Gloria Berbena, US Acting Deputy Chief of Mission, New Delhi, seen outside the Ministry of External Affairs following India’s summons

Ritu Jha–

Last week, India’s Ministry of External Affairs summoned the acting deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy in India Gloria Berbena and took strong objection to the US State Department’s remarks on the arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, asking India for “a fair, transparent, and timely legal process” for the jailed leader.

The meeting, which lasted 45 minutes, came after a US State Department spokesperson said that they “encourage a fair, transparent, and timely legal process for Chief Minister Kejriwal”. In response, the MEA said in a statement, “We take strong objection to the remarks of the Spokesperson of the US State Department about certain legal proceedings in India.”

This has not pleased Indian American community leaders who have worked hard to build US-India relations for decades. Some of them indica spoke with said they are not pleased in the manner in which India summoned a senior US diplomat, and hoped that both New Delhi and Washington look at the big picture.

Veteran Indian American community leader and Republican Dr. Sampat Shivangi (above left), a member of the National Advisory Council, Center for National Mental Health Services, and an influential member of the Indian diaspora in the US, said that he is displeased to learn about the growing rift between the US and India.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal leaves the Rouse Avenue Court after being produced by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the Delhi Excise Policy case, in New Delhi The court extended his ED remand till April 1. (ANI Photo/Jitender Gupta)

Shivangi, who has been playing a key role in maintaining people-to-people ties between the two countries, told indica he was shocked to hear the news. “It was 3 am Wednesday and his phone was buzzing non-stop with people calling him about the Ministry of External Affairs summoning Berbena, the State Department Minister-Counselor for Public Diplomacy, after she made a statement on a fair legal process for opposition leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal,” he told an AP reporter.

Dr. Shivangi said, “It is an embarrassing moment for US-India relations, the two allies as well as the Indian diaspora. I think two mature democracies should work together, and have internal discussions if needed before going into public from both sides. Probably it is one of the few controversies that have seen the light of day,” Dr. Shivangi stated.

On the United Nations commenting on the Kejriwal issue, he told indica, “Even the United Nations has an opinion on this issue. Hopefully, we will have a satisfactory response and resolution shortly in the best interest of the two largest democracies on the planet. A dialogue at the highest level is imperative to prevent further deterioration in ties.”

While responding to a query on the arrest of Kejriwal and the freezing of the opposition Congress Party’s bank accounts, Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a press conference on March 28: “What we very much hope that in India, as in any country that is having elections, that everyone’s rights are protected, including political and civil rights, and everyone can vote in an atmosphere that is free and fair.”

Berbena was not the only diplomat summoned, Earlier, India summoned Georg Enzweiler, the German deputy chief of mission, to express concern about the European country’s comments on Kejriwal’s arrest on March 21.

During a press briefing, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said, “I’m not going to talk about any private diplomatic conversations. But of course, what we have said publicly is what I just said from here, that we encourage fair, transparent, timely legal processes. We don’t think anyone should object to that, and we’ll make the same thing clear privately,” Miller said.

Another prominent Indian American community leader Ramesh Kapur told indica that the Kejriwal issue is being blown out of proportion and that both the US and India should look at the big picture.

“This is noise,” he said. “I tell the Indian side too, that don’t get too bent out of shape when some politician makes a comment. The problem with US-India relations always being is that India is so sensitive to every little comment. You have to realize that the United States is a democracy like India. There’s always somebody in the opposition who will make a comment. There are so many speakers in the State Department who make comments. I don’t think either side should get too sensitive about it. The bigger picture is, if China goes further into the Indian territories, will the United States help? And the same thing is what United States has to look at it is that if China goes to Taiwan, can they count on India? So those are the bigger issues that they have to consider,” Kapur said.

He added, “A lot of these statements come from the Ministry of External Affairs. That doesn’t mean that that’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position. And a lot of times Modi has contradicted that position. Sometimes what happens is bureaucracies in both countries get carried away. The problem is that both sides do not understand each other. The Ministry of External Affairs does not understand the US and the US doesn’t understand India.”

On the UN commenting on Kejriwal’s arrest, Kapur said: “The UN makes such comments all the time. But India and the Modi government have to realize that is that if the United Nations is making a comment, and if they feel it’s wrong and the perception is wrong, then maybe they should talk to the United Nations and explain their position to them. Instead of saying, it’s none of your business to get involved.”

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