Taking part in a discussion on a leading Malayalam TV channel Reporter last night about the incident of the killing of two fishermen by sailors on board an Italian tanker, what struck me most was that the present state government led by chief minister Oommen Chandy lives on razor’s edge.
This is the second time Chandy tried to ride the wave of rhetoric — the Mullaperiyar gaffe hasn’t yet got over — and the only way it can be justified is that he is grandstanding by playing on the people’s emotions so that someone else doesn’t do that. Yet, he runs a government. Presumably, since the government survives on a wafer-thin majority, he has no choice. Every issue assumes larger-than-life political meaning within minutes.
I can’t understand on what basis Chandy could be so categorical that the Italians will be tried for murder in the Kochi court. Even more preposterous was the state DGP’s assertion that no matter where the incident took place — territorial waters or international waters — Indian laws will prevail.
There seems to be a total disconnect between Delhi and Thiruvanathapuram. The cautious wording of the MEA statement on the phone conversation between EAM S.M.Krishna and his Italian counterpart Guilio Maria Terzi di Sant’Agata went almost unnoticed in Thiruvanathapuram. Evidently, much transpired between Delhi and Rome on the diplomatic track.
Belatedly, the realisation is dawning that so little is known definitively about where actually the crime took place. Everything depends on that, if one may so, as to where the killing occured. India has no jurisdiction over the international waters. The responsibility vests with the so-called ‘flag state’, which is Italy.
To my mind, the Italian side has behaved with exemplary restraint. They allowed themselves to be escorted into the Kochi port without creating a ruckus. They have since proposed an amicable, mutually acceptable diplomatic solution. Their FM took the initiative to talk to Delhi. They have offered a joint probe into the incident. If the latest reports are accurate, they allowed their ship’s personnel to be questioned by Kerala Police.
Now, if we remain adamant that the hare we caught has two horns no matter what the world thinks, and if the Italians are pushed against the wall, it won’t help matters. Italy has its sovereign rights, too. It is a full member of the United Nations – like India. Additionally, it is also a member of the European Union. This could needlessly turn into a diplomatic row where Delhi can find itself at the receiving end. India can do without all that.
Terzi’s offer for a joint probe was eminently reasonable and should have been accepted. Krishna faltered. He got it wrong: there is no need for Congress Party to be defensive. The Indian nation is mature enough to discern the grain from the chaff.
As a first step, the folks in Thiruvananthapuram should be asked to keep their trap shut. It is Mullaperiyar all over again — working up mass frenzy for political ends. Chandy could take a leaf from Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalaithaa. Boy, with what aplomb is she wrapping up the endgame over Kudankulam! Chandy is an agitator par excellence, no doubt. But today he is also expected to be a ruler.
Finally, there is food for thought for the Hindutva brigade too, which is gleefully taunting the government. I am sure they will start fulminating ‘Bharat Mata ki jay’ if an Indian ship were to be caught up in similar unhappy circumstances off Thailand. I suppose they would then say that since India is the ‘flag state’, the ship should be returned and the sailors would be tried in our courts. Doublespeak has its limits when it borders on hypocrisy. The very thought is disgusting — making politics out of a corpse.
– February 19, 2012