From all appearance, the blame game has begun over the anticipated failure of the government’s proforma efforts to probe the bribery allegations in the VVIP helicopter deal. It appears that the Defence Ministry seeks to put the blame on the Indian embassy in Rome and the Ministry of External Affairs in South Block.
But these antics won’t wash. Maybe, the Mission in Rome does lack an Italian-speaking officer at senior level. So what? It is not unusual that a Mission employs local interpreters. How many embassies in Chanakyapuri can handle Tamil or Bengali languages?
Italian is a ‘rare’ language which is not spoken widely outside of Italy and it is impractical to train a whole cadre of foreign service officers so that they can serve — and reserve and reserve — in the Mission in Rome till they superannuate at the age of sixty. The IFS cadres are traditionally trained in one of the ‘major’ languages — French, Spanish, Arabic, et al — and the policy is sensible and cost-effective.
However, that is not the real issue here. The main hitch in the Defence Ministry’s probe into the scandal at the Italian end is going to be that the India-Italy relationship at the political level is at an all-time low level today.
Suffice to say, the Italians know it is payback time and they can be trusted to apply full ‘reciprocity’ by invoking the ‘due process of law’ — which is exactly what our government did in the case of the two Italian Marines languishing in the Indian custody for the past one year.
The Italians moved heaven and earth — including at the level of their prime minister — to find a mutually acceptable compromise with our government on the case of the two Marines. They even suggested that at the very minimum, a joint investigation should be held on the incident last year involving the Marines in order to establish the facts.
But our leaders dismissively parried and kept insisting doggedly that the ‘due process of law’ will take its course and that is how India works — despite the Italians having begun a case in their courts in the matter.
Simply put, it was politically expedient for our government to take a hard line in the case of the Italian Marines. There were two reasons. One, the government was needlessly on the defensive because Congress President Sonia Gandhi happens to be an Indian of Italian origin and our weak leaders were patently nervous that false accusations might arise that Delhi was kowtowing to Rome.
Two, Congress Party was fighting a key bypoll in Kerala last year, which was critical to the continuance of the UDF government in power in Thiruvananthapuram and it paid to act tough in the case of the Italian Marines, which happened to be in the public limelight.
Ironically, Defence Minister A. K. Antony was one of the Congress leaders from Kerala who took a particularly strident public stance on the case Italian Marines. To be sure, Rome will make it a point to pay back in the same coin when Antony seeks the help of the Italian government.
Again, according to the Delhi grapevine, the Ministry of External Affairs was all for an amicable settlement of the case of the Italian Marines but Congress Party’s political requirements prevailed over the professional advice. In fact, in an almost identical case last year when an American naval ship shot and killed two Indians near Dubai, our government initially made a fuss but then abruptly piped down and bent over backward to close the file. No one cares anymore.
Don’t the Italians take note of all these shenanigans of our weak leadership? They are a proud people with an enviable heritage in international diplomacy and they will string the Indian investigators deputed to Rome on Antony’s instructions till our chaps cried ‘Mother Mary’. That is the plain honest truth.
For our Defence Ministry to turn the situation around on its head now and to accuse that the dearth of Italian-speaking officers in the Mission in Rome hampers its robust probe is simply a churlish act.
– February 18, 2013