Tinker, Sailors, Diplo, Why?

How should India react to Italy? The answer lies in massages, James Bond, & most importantly, Courtly nobility & grace.

ByIndrajit Hazra
Tinker, Sailors, Diplo, Why?
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The not-mysterious-at-all case of the Italian marines is not a masterpiece of cubism. From whichever angle one looks at it, it’s a knobbly nose pointing at Rome putting a piece of paper called Indian law into its mouth and chewing it down its gullet. The Supreme Court of India, “in its nobility and grace”, had already set a nice bottle of 1994 Chianto Collo Fiorentini on the table to wash it down with.

Now this papal act was and remains the mystery. What made the Supreme Court, usually such a square-chinned bright spark, agree to allow the two Italian marines to return to Italy? The two sailors had shot dead two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala on Valentine’s Day last year during an anti-piracy operation and were to face trial in India with both Italy and India agreeing to it. Then the Indian court provided the Italian government with a revved-up Lamborghini and the Italians said ‘Grazie’ and used it as a getaway car.

Last week when Indian news channels showed recordings of Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre — neither related to or friendly with Ottavio Quattrochhi or his relations or friends – being given a hero’s welcome on their arrival in Rome on February 22, many patriotic Indian brains were confused. The phrase “in its nobility and grace” was bandied about quite a lot by both marines and Italian officials in the clip to describe the Indian judicial system and much was made of how gracious and great a democracy India is. But just as the Indian news anchors popped back into the TV frame reminding viewers that Italy had just clipped India behind the ears, placed a dead squirrel at our doorstep and was praising us to high heaven, we remembered what a ponzi scheme looks like.

The sudden disclosure by the Italians on March 11 that the marines won’t be sent back to India for trial as had been agreed upon by the Supreme Court of India and the highest representative of the Italian government in Delhi, ambassador Daniele Mancini, has left the UPA government looking like someone on the massage table with his head down and a towel covering his bum getting the news that the masseur has left, taking his money and his clothes and won’t be coming back. With a hand towel covering its privates (the smart thing would have been to use it to cover its face) the UPA government’s now using the brahmastra of ‘Unacceptable’ to man(mohan) up and tell the Italians to send their marines back for trial or else…

…or else?

And there lies the problemo. In diplomacy, unlike in all massages, the object is not to always have a happy ending. With the Italians having the upper-hand – they have the proverbial “girl” – leaving things as they are and hoping things will just calm down if left alone isn’t an option for the Manmohan Singh government. Being “friendly countries” and all that, the way out for both sides is to not have an unhappy ending.

Italy, fresh out of utterly chaotic elections (the ones that our democratic nation “sent” our two escaped marines to participate in), is in the throes of a messy coalition-cooking of the kind that we shouldn’t be unfamiliar with. A party led by a populist comedian-satirist Beppe Grillo – think Anna Hazare-meets-Navjot Singh Sidhu – who won 25% of the votes in the recent elections, holds the key to the composition of the next Italian government. In Italy, the “marines-back-from-India” issue has been a bone thrown into the kennel.

On India’s domestic front, poor Kerala chief minister Oomen Chandy doesn’t have an option but to go to Delhi, be seen telling his boss Congress president Sonia Gandhi among others of the utter need to get the Italian marines who were responsible for the deaths of two of “his people” to justice in India.

New Delhi and Rome would have loved to work out something quietly between the two of them. But faced with a post-electoral soup kitchen in Italy and genuine shock and anger in Kerala and now beyond in India, both governments have to puff their chests up even if that means buttons pop.

When Raymond Davies, an American citizen shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January 2011, the Americans made a lot of noise about diplomatic immunity. But the Pakistanis still arrested Davies, put him on trial in Pakistan and after a controversial $2.4 million was paid by the US in the form of “blood money” to the families of the victims, was put on trial and acquitted and then sent back to the US. The Americans had not agreed to have Davies undergo proceedings under the Pakistani justice system – something that the Italians did when Ambassador Mancini, surely not a rogue operative working independently from his bosses in Rome, had in principle and in law.

Mancini signed an affidavit by which he swore that the two accused marines would be kept under his “round-the-clock custody, control and supervision” and that he would “take full responsibility for securing the return” of the marines to India on or before the leave of four weeks granted to them by the Supreme Court of India”. And then, Rome decides on Monday night to raise a bilateral dispute “on facts, procedures and processes” of the case that includes the ungentlemanly behaviour of New Delhi not responding to the Italian request sent six days before of setting up a diplomatic level meeting to settle the matter amicably.

This when UPA-ruled India — not even by the reckoning of some Indian nationalists who don’t like Italians in positions of power in Indian politics such as Sushma Swaraj — is not an Italian client state. Something that Pakistan knew it was while dealing with the Raymond Davies case.

I don’t know whether Sonia Gandhi has been scanning the websites of the Italian media and blinking faster than usual (only the Leftist daily Il Manifesto has described Italy’s move as “scandalous”), but this week at Parliament, she seemed more than a bit uncomfortable, hoping that Sushmaji won’t say something embarrassing. But clearly, even as Manmohan Singh strikes a fiery, angry pose – well, as much of a fiery, angry pose that he can muster – Machiavelli dictates that India gives Italy something that the latter finds worthwhile to end the matter in the least unhappy way (for India).

As for the mystery of the Supreme Court decision to allow the accused marines to leave Indian shores, that can’t be answered but only underlined by extending what James Bond fan Arun Jaitley said while quoting Ian Fleming in Parliament: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time, it’s enemy action”.

What comes after these lines spoken by the villain Goldfinger to Bond can provide a clue to the Opposition to what it should do in the days leading up to the Supreme Court deadline for the marines’ return to India on March 22 and beyond: “‘I propose to wring the truth out of you.’ Goldfinger’s eyes slid slowly past Bond’s head. ‘Oddjob. The Pressure Room.’”


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