The Italian Marines resisted for 8 hours before they would be moved into the cell in Poojappura prison in Thiruvananthapuram to await trial for the killing of 2 Indian fishermen on February 15. The jail wardens were unsure about their locus standii to exercise authority in such a tricky case fraught with booby traps and they took the easy way out — seek instructions from above. A bureaucratic chain appeared in no time leading to the highest level of state power in Kerala. The matter finally was referred for instructions all the way to chief minister Oommen Chandy himself.
Finally, at 3 am the Marines obliged to take up residence in the VIP cell, whose previous occupant, ironically, happened to be a former Kerala minister R. Balakrishna Pillai belonging to the ruling alliance, who was convicted for an year’s imprisonment for public corruption.
Chandy pardoned Pillai before the prison term was completed. Recently he also released PiIlai’s memoirs. Whether there is going to be similar grace shown to the Italian Marines once the Piravom bypoll on March 17 is over and done with, will be the big qustion.
At any rate, the Italian deputy foreign minister Staffan De Mistura apparently thinks so, and he is vowing to stay put in this lovely town hugging the Kovalam beach resort until the denouement of the Marines affair. He is personally looking into the comforts of the Marines and giving interviews to Italian TV channels.
There are over 3 dozen foreigners imprisoned in Kerala jails (mostly Pakistanis and Sri Lankans) for crimes less severe than murder — overstay without visa, drug-related crimes, etc. But they are ‘dead souls’. It’s truly amazing — to what length Western countries go to ensure the welfare of their citizens.
Italy is passing through an economic crisis and Italians are a proud lot. There is sensitivity in Italy that ‘rising India’ is trashing ‘weak Italy’.
The fact that the Italian FM summoned the Indian ambassador yesterday and made a demarche about Poojappura shows how far things have deteriorated at the diplomatic level. The lingering question is whether this entire affair couldn’t have been handled differently by Delhi.
Like Kudankulam, National Counter-Terrorism Centre, water accord with Bangladesh, Mullaperiyar — this affair too becomes a living monument to the dysfunctional government in New Delhi.
– March 7, 2012