The mess about the Italian naval guards – total screw-up by the UPA Government

First steps – Kerala is a very delicate state for the Congress. The state delivers a very tight verdict in assembly elections, and if the past trends are anything to go by, it is the turn of the Left parties to get more seats in Kerala (since a Congress led front is in power in Kerala). And the killing of innocent fishermen by foreign nationals (maybe in Indian territorial waters) is a very emotional subject. At the same time, if you were to extend this sort of situation to some other country such as Italy or China or the United States, they would have behaved in a manner more in terms of projecting the power of the country. After all, for a country to gain respect, it is important that it project a strong image, not seen as a state that seemingly is unable to take a coherent position in such situations.
So, what happened when the marines were apprehended ? They were arrested and brought ashore to Kerala (where it was required to give them sufficient security to ensure that they came to no harm). After a period of time and some movement in the judicial process, the Supreme Court removed this from the jurisdiction of the state of Kerala and ordered the central government to provide a court that could resolve matters related to jurisdiction. All this was perfectly onboard and nothing amiss, except that due to India’s pace of judicial movement, this took some time. And as befitting the way in which India’s Government moves, the central UPA Government did not take any steps towards this designating a court for the same.

And then, the court gave some special rights to the Italian marines. It allowed them to go to Italy to celebrate Christmas, and I am being honest, I thought that they would not come back. However, they did come back, which seemed reassuring. In all this, the External Affairs ministry and I would expect the home ministry, both were in agreement with these steps. After all, if there was a doubt about whether it was safe to let the marines to go to Italy, one would have expected these government ministers to have spent the required amount of time to decide the legal and political aspects of the situation. After all, with the permission of the court, it might have been legal to send these marines back to Italy, but had the Government done the political calculations about what it would face, both at the national level and the impact on the Congress in Kerala ? One does not have too many expectations from Sushil Kumar Shinde, but there are many very political aware people in the highest levels of Government, how did they let this happen ? Especially when this related to Italy, which is also where Sonia Gandhi is from.
And then it happened. The next time that they were sent home to Italy, on the strength of an undertaking by the Italian Ambassador, the Government was complicit in this deal as well. And then, to the shock of the Government, the Italian Government announced that they would not send these marines back. A first class crisis for the Government, since the media and the opposition would naturally blame the Government, and it was not possible to pass on the blame on the Supreme Court. In fact, the Supreme Court would have blasted the Government if it tries something like this, and the court was instead focused on threatening the Italian Ambassador. This would have caused further problem to the Government, since no matter what the sub-prints of treaties such as the Vienna convention state, it is an overall accepted form that ambassadors cannot be prosecuted or any other action taken. The legal advisors of the Government erred by not considering the case if the marines did not come back, and what they could do. Further, with the hard action taken by the Supreme Court, the Government really was not able to do much.
After no doubt much threatening and using the influence of Italian businesses which might have become impacted if there was a tension like this in the relationship, the Italians finally consented to send the marines back, although with conditions. The situation was so sticky for the Indian Government that it would have agreed to any conditions, and probably did (we are still hearing more about what all has been promised to the Italian Government regarding these marines – no death penalty was one; another would be possibly about sending them home to complete their punishment in an Italian prison under a new treaty which is not yet signed). The Government also moved quickly this time on the designating a court for hearing the various issues related to this incident.

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