Friday, March 22, 2013

Why Italian Marines have to Come Back?

On 13th March, when the Twitter was full of comments from professional analysts and self-proclaimed nationalists that how India has become a soft state, how UPA, Man Mohan Singh, and Sonia Gandhi are hands in glove with Italy in damaging Indian interests, and how Italy is some rogue mafia style country that it cannot be expected to honour the solemn commitment given to the Supreme Court of India, I decided to post this tweet reproduced below:

I still think the Italian marines will be back in India, when their bail period is over.

          This Tweet invited so many reactions, some expressing agreement with me, others laughing at my misplaced optimism, and some others questioning my loyalties. I defended my tweet, which according to me was based more on realism than optimism.

          Today, when I woke up to the news that Italian Marines are indeed coming back to India to be present here when their bail is getting expired, I felt vindicated.  Why did I feel confident that they will eventually be back in India? This confidence was based on various factors that are the subject matter of this post.

          With all due respect, I still do believe that the apex court of India erred in granting such a bail (or leave, as being reported by the media) to the two foreign national accused of a serious crime of murder. No doubt, the Court used its discretion based on a solemn commitment given by the State of Italy, through its Ambassador. However, Court erred in appreciating the ramifications of a default on that commitment. The very fact that same Court was forced to issue an order restraining Italian Ambassador from leaving the country is an indication how things could have gone wrong by this act of the Court.

          Secondly, would Supreme Court of India grant such a permission to Somalian Nationals, if the Envoy of Somalia give such a commitment? Was the Supreme Court setting a dangerous precedent by this action? It is a fact that no government can make a decision to bail out or release an accused who is under judicial custody. So, the entire discretion was bestowed in the Court, and the Court seems to have exercised it without properly appreciating the consequences.

          Keeping the decision of the Supreme Court aside, why was it not feasible for the Italian Government to refuse the Marines’ presence in India, to face trial? First and foremost, Italy and India are not some banana republics that can act without any consideration of larger issues involved. Secondly, this was not a case of some foreign nationals jumping the bail. This was a case, where these nationals were released strictly on the basis of an assurance from a sovereign country that they will be presented back to the court, in time.

If a State goes back on a commitment given through an affidavit from its Ambassador, what will be the sanctity of diplomatic relationships and discussions? Could India have merely accepted such a decision as fait accompli and kept quiet? India would have been forced to take severe measures including the potential arrest of the Italian Envoy for contempt of court, at least to satisfy its domestic compulsions. It is even more so since the name of the Chairperson of ruling coalition UPA, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, was being sullied by the opposition and analysts alike, linking the Supreme Court decision to her connection with Italy. No government could have afforded not to act under these circumstances.

No act in diplomacy goes without a retaliation and, therefore, any steps would have ended in severing of diplomatic relations between the two countries.  India may still be able to afford it, but Italy may not. Neither will the EU or any other power side with Italy in this matter because it involves (a) the second largest market in the world, and (ii) the very basics of diplomatic relations.

          The sovereign countries have only three options in dealing with each other. First is to follow the accepted principles of diplomacy (which is based on mutual respect and commitment) and second is to go to war. The third option is not dealing with each other, at all. As stated above, severing the relationship with a market as big as India will surely hurt Italy, in this world that seems to be under a constant threat of recession.

          What will happen to the diplomacy itself? Like the underworld, diplomacy also has to function under some Omerta or code of honour because it is dealing with sovereign partners, and there is no supervisory authority to settle their disputes.  If a State goes back on its commitments, its credibility among other nations is also bound to get affected, impairing its power of negotiation.

           Last but not the least, if the intention was to dishonor the commitment given to judiciary why would have Italy disclosed it so soon? It could have waited till the date on which Mariners were expected to report back in India and then announced the same. The very fact that advance notice was given suggested a strategy involving testing of waters, and probably seeking some concessions and assurances regarding the trial. It is na├»ve to believe that Italy might have not expected the kind of reaction from Indian authorities and public.  

           In a highly politicized atmosphere, it is natural for people to view any incident through political prism. However, for professional analysts to miss these points and reduce the debate to mere name calling of political leaders is, to say the least, appalling. What many people did not realize was the fact that when they blamed Mrs Sonia Gandhi for the decision to send Marines home, they were not insulting her or Congress, but the very Supreme Court of India and its decision.