WASHINGTON - India's outrage over the arrest of a diplomat in the United States has thrown cold water on years of sanguine predictions of a blossoming alliance between the world's two largest democracies.
While few expect an end to cooperation on common security interests, experts say the rift has buried any suggestions that India would turn into a bosom US ally along the lines of Britain or Japan.
Since independence in 1947, India has jealously safeguarded its sovereignty and was estranged from the United States until the end of the Cold War.
Since then, the two sides have spoken of a broad alliance between two secular democracies wary both of Islamic extremism and the rise of China.
Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone call Wednesday with Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon voiced regret over the treatment of Devyani Khobragade, who was arrested last week on charges she paid a domestic worker a fraction of the minimum wage and lied about the salary on a visa application.
Fueling anger in India, the 39-year-old deputy consul general in New York said she was repeatedly handcuffed, stripped and cavity-searched. In retaliation, India took action against US consular officials and removed concrete barricades that had been set up outside the US Embassy in New Delhi.
"I think this clearly illustrates something deeper about Indian ambivalence toward its partnership with the United States," said Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Hathaway said that the arrest touched on issues of national pride for a country seen as an emerging power, with Indians saying: "'We aren't simply going to tolerate being treated as a banana republic."
The row comes as US businesses, long a driving force for better ties with India, have increasingly complained about the investment climate in the billion-plus nation.
And while India has been popular with US policymakers across the political spectrum, a congressional aide said that lawmakers were alarmed by the decision to remove barriers outside the New Delhi embassy, especially in the wake of the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.