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Publication Date : 16-06-2014
Much is being made of the foreign policy initiatives of the Modi government, its inviting regional leaders to its swearing-in, establishing contacts with major powers, impending visits and so on. Yet a sticky issue persists: the two Italian marines who have been under arrest - not necessarily in detention - for 28 months, and whose trial is yet to commence.
The Italian government has said it was hopeful of working with the new dispensation in Delhi but has reiterated its position on jurisdiction, and asserted it would proceed with seeking international arbitration if no settlement emerges.
Actually a large section of the international community will be watching if the government takes the same line as the UPA, the case has implications for relations with the European Union, the global effort to tackle piracy, and the functioning of security personnel embarked upon Indian merchantmen.
The BJP has not articulated its stance on what many believe was a case of the Manmohan Singh government wilting under the parochial pressure from political forces in Kerala - the fishermen killed when the marines opened fire thinking they were coming under pirate attack were from that state. Yes, some BJP leaders did accuse the government of being “soft” when Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone were permitted trips back home - little realising that those trips as well as their being permitted to reside in the Italian embassy in New Delhi were approved by the Supreme Court.
While one school of Indian thought shares the Kerala sentiment which demands stringent punishment for “murder”, another maintains that if the original case was flimsy, it was botched up by prosecutors with ulterior motives who complicated matters by seeking to have the marines punished under a terrorism-related law, not setting up a special court etc.
Those complications apart, the delay in initiating the trial presents an unfavourable picture of Indian judicial processes, even negates the Indian angst over Pakistan dragging its heels over acting against those who masterminded the terror strike in Mumbai.
By comparison, the Enrica Lexie incident was pretty straightforward. Hence some feel the marines have already paid a price, the case could be withdrawn or they be prosecuted under Italian law in their own country, they are military personnel after all.
From a political perspective, the Modi government is not dependent on support from Kerala-based parties so it could take a less “passionate”, more legalistic position.
An early settlement might also send out a signal that it is possible for countries of all “sizes” to do business with the NDA set-up. The government’s line of thinking should be articulated at the earliest: bold decisions are required, either way.