Forget the Cashgate scandal, find sometime for other scandals outside us. The Nannygate scandal is here courtesy of the American police.

An Indian woman, who came to the United States as the nanny of a high ranking Indian official in New York has set off one of the worst diplomatic rows in the history of Indian-American relations.

On a cold December morning in New York, US law enforcement officials moved in on an unsuspecting target. Devyani Khobragade, India’s 39-year-old deputy consul general in New York was dropping her daughter off at school when police came in, frisked and handcuffed the diplomat, before driving her away in plain sight. She was then strip-searched and lodged in a cell with drug addicts.

The arrest of one of India’s most powerful officials in the United States on the morning of December 12 sent shock waves that were felt thousands of miles away, in New Delhi. The public humiliation and the arrest ignited a major diplomatic crisis between two erstwhile allies.

As the diplomat’s arrest and “humiliation” made headlines in India during what is seen as an election season with general elections scheduled next year, the Indian foreign minister Salman Khursheed summoned the US ambassador.

Other swift actions followed: top Indian officials including Indian Parliament speaker Meira Kumar and other top leaders refused to meet a visiting five-member US congressional delegation. Police barricades outside the US embassy in New Delhi were removed and US officials working in India were asked to surrender their identity cards.

“Other retaliatory measures would follow,” said a top Indian foreign official.

Taken by surprise at the Indian response, US officials sought to downplay the incident, labelling it as a local issue that was handled by the book, by US Marshalls in New York.

“The State Department’s Diplomatic Security followed standard procedures during the arrest. After her arrest, she (Devyani) was passed on to the US Marshals for intake and processing. So for any additional questions on her treatment, obviously, this would be the US Marshals and not us. I would refer you there” said Marie Harf, the deputy State Department spokesperson.

But the US clarification cut little ice in India.

Fuelling Indian anger is a perceived pattern of public humiliation of prominent Indians on US soil over the years.

Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan was strip searched and detained twice, first in 2009 and then 2012 by American airport officials. In 2012, he was stopped and questioned for several hours by American immigration officials before being set free without any charges.

“Whenever I start feeling arrogant about myself, I always take a trip to America. The immigration guys kick the star out of stardom,” Shahrukh Khan told students at Yale University, soon after his last detention.

There were others who had suffered ignominy at the hands of US officials. In the late 90s, the-then Indian defence minister George Fernandes was strip-searched at a US airport. A P Abdul Kalam, the ex-Indian president, was also taken off the plane and searched at another airport in 2009.

Indians see these as slights to them – a feeling that has been further fuelled by their frequent occurrence.

For the time being, a top diplomat and what she had to undergo is redefining ties between India and the US.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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