July 04, 2020
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What The Romans Do

Italy has delivered an insult. It shouldn’t be taken lying down.

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What The Romans Do
What The Romans Do

You need to bounce back after a screw-up. Clear the debris, gather your thoughts, cut your losses and respond if you can. And, if you can’t, just bide your time and wait for the right moment to strike.

The country’s Supreme Court and political executive have been publicly humiliated by the Italian government’s decision not to return two of their marines to India for standing trial in the murder of fishermen Ajish Pink and Valentine.

If India quietly watches, there will be more foreign governments going down the Italian route. A state that can’t ensure the implementation of the orders of its highest court can only be seen as an effete one.

The West tells the Rest that they must play by the rules. In trade, migration, extradition, copyright, climate change, contracts, whatever areas they can think up. But when it comes to their own interests or nationals, they often sing a different tune. After all, how can you weigh the lives of two poor and very dead Indian fishermen and two healthy Italian marines who were on ‘sovereign’ duty? You can’t, can you?

There are bound to be many legal twists and turns in this case. But about one thing we can be pretty sure. That Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone aren’t going to return to India to stand trial for murder in an Indian court—whether special or ordinary. If they were to return, the Italians would never have said anything about keeping them at home.

One can be sure of another thing. That the Italians have thought this thing through—they must have anticipated the response of the Indian government and courts—and thought they can get away with it. After being craven in their submissions to the Supreme Court, which had been so considerate towards them, they took a considered decision to defy it.

Their foreign minister also publicly informed the world that the whole government—from the prime minister down—was behind the decision to let the marines flee the custody of the Supreme Court.

“By the very nature of things, it is likely to take some time for matters to move ahead in the present case,” the Italians submitted before the SC on February 11. It’s clear that they have realised how slowly everything moves in India, and that we aren’t very keen on bringing offenders to just­ice. The SC had asked the Centre to set up a special court to try the two Italians on January 18, but that is yet to happen, with government departments debating about whose job it is to set up the court. In the one year since the shooting, the Italians have seen how our courts and the executive behave at close hand. One obvious thing is despite the sensitive nature of the case, there has been no urgency in taking it forward, a matter stated up front by the Italians.

And what about the government of India? What are the consequences for India-Italy relations that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke of in Parliament? Will there be any?

For starters, the Italian ambassador in India, Daniele Mancini, who has proved that a diplomat is an officer sent abroad to lie for his country, should have a very short tenure. Mancini presented his cre­dentials to the President in February, so he should have no trouble in moving on to another assignment. He’ll possibly be rewarded with a plum job by his masters. Of course, there will be repercussions if India were to declare Man­cini persona non grata. But, by dow­­­­ngrading our relations, India would have sent a clear signal to Rome and other world capitals—you can’t get away with defying judicial orders.

The Italians can be expected to resp­ond. An Indian diplomat is yet to take up his assignment as the new ambassador to Italy. So, New Delhi doesn’t need to send an envoy to Rome for a while. Of course, the Italians can retaliate by sending back the Indian deputy chief of mission. Both nations can play the game.

Sometimes, it’s important to play it. For your national honour and what you stand for. To prevent your country and courts from becoming a laughing stock, to ensure that judicial orders carry authority. Many mistakes have been made. The Supreme Court must bear the burden of being naive. It, perhaps, went along in good faith, believing the assurances of a foreign envoy.

But there’s time to lick our wounds and learn from our mistakes. For the moment, do what you can: send the Italian ambassador packing.

(Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He’s on Twitter @abaruah64)

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