By Patricia Lee Sharpe
U.S. public diplomacy in India was in shocking disarray, I discovered, when I visited Kolkata during the winter of 2011. In several posts I described incompetence when it came to interacting with the Indian public and callous if not downright cruel personnel policy. You can refresh your memories by reviewing theses posts: The Big Jingle Jangle, The Maharani and her Scion and America the Imperial.
The latter is the one that concerns us here. It described the sacking of a talented, veteran Foreign Service National—whoops! wrong term. These people who were once regarded as professional colleagues have been demoted to mere Locally Employed Staff. (I ask you. Which denotes more respect and collegiality? Which category would you prefer to fall into? )
Yes, I discovered that the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata had fired a veteran information assistant, a man with whom I had worked for two years, on a trumped up charge of electronic sabotage. I can vouch for this person’s competence, character and creativity. He was really fired so that a sexier candidate from the fashion world could be hired to fill a newly vacant post to which he should have been promoted.
Today, I am happy to report that my ex-colleague has landed on his feet. In fact, he has been offered a position with far more prestige than anyone gets for doing the bidding of a foreign power. Even as I write he will be taking up his new responsibilities as Assistant Editor of the Bengali daily that the prestigeous Times of India is launching in Kolkata.
In short, America’s loss is India’s gain—and my friend’s too.
Given the shoddy treatment meted out to this man, does anyone imagine a principled, first rate journalist will ever again be willing to work for America in Kolkata? But it gets worse. It’s hard to imagine this story hasn’t made the rounds in the newspaper world throughout India. The message is clear. Work for America. Get kicked in the face.