Do not ask if it was a Jodan punch to the head, a Chudan to the middle or a Gedan to the groin. All that matters is that the right-wing nationalists are lying flat on the mat, dazed by the lightning blow that came from nowhere Tuesday evening as dusk was falling on Delhi.
By the terminology of Shotokan Karate, Congress President Sonia Gandhi dealt a Ippon Ken Tsuki — a one-knuckle fist punch — to snub the Bharatiya Janata Party’s war horses who dared show the temerity to shout and scream that the United Progressive Alliance government conducts a “weak” foreign policy and that the ruling party is sullying national honor.
Soniaji has taken the strongest position possible on the Italian Marines issue: “The defiance of the Italian government on the question of the two marines issue and its betrayal of a commitment given to our Supreme Court is outright unacceptable. No country can, should, or will be allowed to take India for granted.”
She just took away the tricolor flag from the BJP’s hands. If the Marines issue had appeared so very promising to the BJP to talk about till the 2014 election, forget it.
However, Soniaji didn’t disclose her mind fully: “All means must be pursued to ensure that the commitment made by the Italian government before the Supreme Court is honored.”
To be sure, a barrister’s sure hands can be discerned in the drafting of these careful words. Soniaji didn’t promise that the government will see to it that the two absconding Italian Marines return to Indian soil — and yet she conveyed the impression that she did. And politics is a matter of perceptions.
The Congress and BJP make strange bed fellows. As the veteran communist leader Sitaram Yechury pointed out, neither can honestly claim a creditable record in upholding national honor. Hasn’t someone once said somewhere that patriotism becomes a final refuge for politicians at times?
Most certainly, the ball is now in the court of External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to explore “all means.” But there has been a setback already.
The Italian Government (here), European Union (here), United Nations Secretary-General (here) — they all have essentially voiced the same opinion, namely, the matter should be amicably settled with due respect for the Vienna Convention.
The western opinion is consolidating and Rome’s stance has hardened once the Home Ministry issued the strange advisory on the Italian ambassador. Evidently, Rome is closely coordinating with Brussels. A protracted, painful confrontation could well ensue, depending on how diligently Khurshid and Shinde pursue “all means.”
Normally, there would have been a mediatory effort by Washington in such a testy situation involving a NATO ally and an “indispensable partner” — except that it is an affected party here.
We in India may not want to recall that the killing of our fellow countryman and the critical injury caused to two other Indians by the US Navy in Dubai eight months ago is still apparently under ‘investigation’. But Washington will.
Indeed, the Italian Marines issue becomes a test case for the international community — a precedent-setting case. Arguably, the US and Italy would have shared interests to uphold the immunity of their soldiers from foreign laws. And both are NATO powers, too.
– March 20, 2013