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Indian-born prosecutor in case against diplomat faces backlash from home country

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Dec. 19, 2013: Left Party activists hold placard and shout slogans during a protest against the alleged mistreatment of New York based Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade, near the U.S Consulate in Hyderabad, India. (AP)

Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara is facing a racially charged backlash from some in his home country of India, after filing charges last week against an Indian diplomat in the U.S. 

In the days since Bharara, the U.S. attorney representing Manhattan, went after consular official Devyani Khobragade for alleged visa fraud, outrage in India -- and among many Indians in America -- has mounted. The Indian government accused American officials of subjecting Khobragade to humiliating treatment, including a strip search, during her arrest and retaliated against U.S. diplomats in India. 

But the focus has also turned to Bharara himself, with some Indians effectively accusing him of betraying his own people. This, despite the fact that the purported victim in this case -- an allegedly underpaid and overworked housemaid -- is also Indian. 

Critics stormed Twitter with a string of deeply personal epithets, with many accusing him of being an "Uncle Tom." 

"Devyani was 'strip searched' and 'body cavity searched', never mind what your buddies say, my intellectual Uncle Tom, so take a break," Indian journalist Kanchan Gupta tweeted. It was one of several similar tweets from Gupta which did not mention Bharara by name but presumably were sent in response to the prosecutor's written statement defending the arrest. 

Public sympathy among Indians has largely gravitated toward the well-connected diplomat. 

Bharara, though, has adamantly defended his actions and publicly questioned why more outrage is not directed at the alleged mistreatment of the housekeeper. 

"This Office's sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law -- no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are," he said in a detailed statement earlier this week. 

It's hardly the first time the ambitious and aggressive prosecutor, who was born in India but grew up in New Jersey, has inadvertently become the story. 

He made international waves in 2011 and 2012 when his office prosecuted McKinsey's Rajat Gupta -- an Indian-born tycoon who was ultimately convicted on fraud charges. The case captured the attention of the Indian media. The Press Trust of India called it the "clash of two Indian bigwigs." 

But the attorney has shown no reservations about charging after high-profile cases on Wall Street and beyond, particularly when it involves insider trading, and no matter the subject. 

The Times of India summed up the overseas perception of Bharara in a profile on Wednesday, describing the reaction to another, separate case against an Indian-American. 

"'What! He nailed another Indian???' you could almost hear the community gadflies gasp," the author wrote

Bharara's defiant statement this week about Khobragade could cause trouble for the U.S. State Department, which is trying to ease the tension with India over the incident. Indian media reported Thursday that a senior U.S. official, in a conversation with India's foreign secretary, distanced the Obama administration from Bharara's statement. 

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not address the claim. But she indicated the administration is standing by the charges against the Indian diplomat. 

"We take these allegations very seriously. We're not in any way walking back from those allegations or the charges," she said, while calling this a "law enforcement issue." 

Advocacy groups in the United States have also put the heat on the administration over Khobragade's arrest. 

The U.S. India Political Action Committee earlier this week condemned the arrest procedures and urged a congressional investigation.