Indian federalism is indeed taking a grotesque turn. The issue of the Italian marines becomes the third issue where Indian diplomacy is going to be buffeted by electoral politics. India’s ties with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are already reeling under the assault of the Dravida parties and the Trinamool respectively.
All indications are that this is going to be a recurring phenomenon in Indian politics in the coalition era. Agitational politics comes handy, in particular, when a crucial parliamentary election looms ahead, which is the case now. Any, every issue holds the potential to be exploited for electoral advantage. How this charade is going to play out and how the Indian political class finally acquires the maturity to rise above theatrical antics remains to be seen.
On the Sri Lanka issue the Left parties have been in and out of the Dravida camp from time to time, while on the Italian Marines issue they have instinctively surged to the barricades. That is understandable because the public gallery back in Kerala is watching and the Marines issue is a good controversy to pour scorn at the ruling UDF government.
Of course, a vanity fair is going on between the UDF [United Democratic Front] and the rival left alliance known as LDF [Left Democratic Alliance] and the high probability is that an ugly verbal brawl will ensue over the Malayalam television channels shortly — that is, till the erudite Malayali gets fed up with all this grandstanding and moves on and the excited politician gets the message that there is no more scope to exploit the Italian Marines issue for political mileage.
However, that point is some considerable way off. There are two reasons for that. One, the country involved here is ITALY and Congress President Sonia Gandhi also happens to be an Indian of Italian origin. A CPM MP seems to be already smelling a political conspiracy on this score, perhaps, at the highest level of the Indian government!
Two, the fishermen were Christians and sections of the Christian communities in the fishing villages of Kerala are open to ‘liberation theology’ and the Left parties smell blood. By the way, for the benefit of the uninitiated, Christian community forms the backbone of the UDF and any crack in its unity has grave political implications for Kerala’s highly polarized and delicately balanced political theatre.
It is highly unlikely that the political class in Kerala will care to look at the facts of the Italian Marines affair. But then, facts are facts — and sometimes they are incontrovertible, as in this case. Simply put, the Italians took a very reasonable, flexible and humane stance all through this affair right from day one. All they wanted was a joint investigation before proceeding on the judicial track with a view to establish the competence of India (or Italy) to put their marines on trial.
They paid a huge amount as ‘compensation’ to the affected families, which is manifold what any Indian government would give in similar circumstances. Finally, when they saw in Rome that Delhi was obdurately insisting on the ‘due process of law’, they agreed to it. The Italians took up this issue at the highest level of government and at one point it seemed even back channels were used.
But to their consternation, Rome realized that this is virtually becoming an open-ended affair, given the pace at which the ponderous Indian system moves and the shenanigans of Indian politicians. Meanwhile, their marines would languish under detention.
Now, Italy is a seasoned player in international diplomacy and wouldn’t have decided to force the issue without being certain one hundred percent that they do have a strong case under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea.
Without doubt, our government botched up this case. I had repeatedly pointed out that Kerala politicians like Chief Minister Oommen Chandy who have no clue about international law or diplomacy or foreign policy should not have queered the pitch for the central government when the case was at a crucial stage.
I am aghast why senior Congress Party leaders like Chandy should have been so defensive on this case. What if Soniaji is of Italian origin? She is as much an Indian like any of us and her stature as national figure wouldn’t have been sullied if South Block had agreed to the Italian proposal for a joint investigation.
Well, now all that is history. The birds are coming to roost. What is to be done? The least that can be said is that the government should not again falter under the rabble rousing by motivated political parties. It should have the gumption to take a nonchalant attitude toward the theatrics that lies ahead and deal with the impasse calmly and with great foresight keeping in view the long-term national interests.
Clearly, italy is a major European country and a key participant in the western alliance. India’s relations with Italy must be preserved. Rome is also manifestly keen on the friendly ties with India. We should have the magnanimity and integrity to do some honest soul searching and recognize, finally, that the Italians have been left with no option but to do what they have done, and we really didn’t provide them a reasonable exit door. On the whole, it was appalling diplomacy on our part and becomes yet another legacy of former EAM S. M. Krishna.
As I pointed out recently, this issue is also now entangled with the scam over the purchase of VVIP helicopters from Italy. The government has created a royal mess for itself. It cannot antagonize Rome, as we need Italy’s cooperation to get to the bottom of the helicopter scam. Fortunately, here in this Italian Marines affair no one alleges that money changed hands. So, it is ultimately a matter of bad political judgment and impudent diplomatic call. All we need is a course correction.
By the way, what I don’t understand is what happened to the Left parties when the US Navy shot down two Indians near Dubai a few months ago. It can’t be that the Left parties lost their panache for tilting at the windmill of American imperialism? But then, there was no political meat to be extracted out of the death of two hapless Indians hailing from a remote Tamil Nadu fishing village where the Left is probably unheard of, and chief minister Jayalalitha indeed brusquely closed the file. Whereas, this Italian affair concerns Kerala, the red rain land.
– March 12, 2013