Saturday, 16 March 2013

Italy shows India who’s boss (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, March 15, 2013 - Italy has enjoyed a privileged position in India since the 1970s,presumably because of the charming ways of the Italian people. Since that period, businesses linked to Italy have prospered because of orders placed by Indian, almost entirely by government agencies. There has been a frenzy in ministries such as Defense or Chemicals & Fertilisers to Buy Italian, so much so that middlemen such as Ottavio Quatrocchi became so powerful that he could reduce Cabinet ministers to tears with a frown.

His charm,combined with the winning ways of his wife and children, ensured Quatrocchi a warm welcome in the homes of the most powerful people in India, such as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, whose own wife was born in Orbassano, in Italy, and who spoke Italian to her and to his two lovely children in the privacy of their home. Since Congress President Sonia Gandhi became the de facto Prime Minister of India in 2004 ( with Manmohan Singh being affectionately termed the “Virtual PM”), Italian diplomats have had privileged access to the corridors of power in Delhi. So profound is the respect that senior ministers and bureaucrats have for “Silent Sonia” (so named for her wariness in giving unscripted interviews) that requests from Italian diplomats and businesspersons for appointments almost never go unfulfilled. Arab ambassadors, a group of great importance toIndia, often have to wait for weeks before getting a response to their requests for meetings, while the Ambassador of Italy often gets his the same day

Although India has not formally signed a Status of Forces Agreement specifying that NATO personnel are exempt from the law of the land for actions committed on Indian territory, the Manmohan Singh government has de facto accepted SOFA. This is analogous to the way Atal Behari Vajpayee ( post-1998) and his successor Manmohan Singh have de facto accepted the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, without actually signing it. In a way, this ensures for Indua the worst of both the worlds: the disadvantages of being outside the CTBT without the technological and security advantage that would flow from a robust program of nuclear testing.

In the case of SOFA, the way in which the Manmohan Singh government has coddled two Italian marines after they had shot dead two Indian fishermen illustrates the complete adherence by the Government of India to the NATO principle that any actions committed by its personnel, no matter how costly in terms of human - especially civilian - lives, will attract zero punishment from the authorities. Soon after a court in Kerala (which was less respectful of the NATO demand for full immunity than the government) placed the two marines in jail, Manmohan Singh (who is in regular consultation with Sonia Gandhi on all important matters, and who regards the Congress President’s word as law) saw to it that they were lodged in a Guest House and given Italian foodprepared by chefs from star hotels. The higher courts in India decided to extend a humane hand to the two marines, who were after all in a faraway land and clearly missing their families, by permitting them to go back to Italy for Christmas and thereafter to cast their votes in the nationalelections in that country. Hopefully, this privilege will get extended to all prisoners in Indian jails, so that they may return home for religious festivals and for elections. India being a country where there are numerous religious festivals and several elections, such a precedent would permit prisoners to spend quality time in a family atmosphere. Certainly such a setting would be more conducive to reform than the animal-like condition of several prisons in India

However, despite linguini for lunch and pizza for a teatime snack, despite air-conditioned guest houses and liberal visiting privileges, the Italian government insisted on the NATO doctrine of immunity, demanding that the marines be released and sent back to Italy, where they were promised a trial. Of course, the My Lai precedent is still fresh in memory. Even after ordering the gunning down of 600 innocent Vietnamese women and children in cold blood, Lt Willian Calley was sentenced to “house arrest” before being pardoned by President Richard Milhous Nixon in one of that individual’s rare manifestations of Christian charity. This being the case, those NATO personnel responsible for the deaths of only two Third Worlders could expect not jail but a medal. Indeed, when the marines returned for their Christmas festivities (as ordered by the benevolent Supreme Court of India) ,they were filmed in full uniform. Apparently the crime of murder is not sufficient to justify dismissal from the military, especially if the deaths be those of Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans or Indians. The two are likely to join duty very soon, although they may miss the wholesome ravioli prepared for them by solicitious chefs in India, and the comforts of the luxurious facilities in which they were “imprisoned” while in India. Clearly, Italians are specially loved in India, perhaps out of gratitude that the country sent to the shores of the world’s most populous democracy the lady who has captivated with her silent ways the entire Congress Party, the inimitable Sonia Gandhi nee Maino

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh knows that his job does not depend on public opinion but on the goodwill of Sonia Gandhi. Why should he care, therefore, that not only his government but his country (and indeed the people) appear as objects of ridicule by the international community at the sight of two killers being escorted out of India and sent back to their forgiving country for the presumably petty offense of adding two more names to the lengthening list of Third World innocents killed by NATO soldiery? The Italian government has with contempt gone back on its written commitment that the two marines would be sent back, while Manmohan Singh dithers and frets, waiting for a decision from Sonia Gandhi, the source of all his authority. Italy has shownIndia just who is the boss. Were Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi buried and not cremated, both would be twisting and turning in their graves at the pathetic condition to which their country has been reduced by this mockery of justice.

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