New Delhi | 16th Mar 2013
fficials in the Ministry of External Affairs are angered by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's "incessant interference, including in details of foreign policy best left to professionals". They hold such interference responsible for the manner in which Italy has "insulted and ignored India by treating a solemn commitment to the Supreme Court as waste paper". An official familiar with Europe said that "this could happen only because the Europeans are aware of the PM's willingness to bend backwards to oblige them and the United States". Another senior official claimed that "the micro-managing of foreign policy (by the PM) began after the nuclear deal was announced in Washington in 2005". From that time onwards until the agreement finally got through the International Atomic Energy Agency three years later, "the Prime Minister was constantly on our back, warning us not to annoy the US".
According to a colleague of the officer, "The collapse in India's standing in the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka began during this period, when it was obvious that Indian policy was being choreographed by Big Brother in Washington." He pointed to the hasty recognition of coup leader Mohammed Waheed as the new President of the Maldives and to the vote against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC as examples of Western pressure on India bearing fruit. According to him, "The effort at using India's leverage to promote US and EU interests in South Asia has boomeranged, with China rather than the US and the EU filling the vacuum voluntarily caused by India's deferring to the US in its own backyard."
MEA officials fault Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai for not more forcefully articulating the professionals' view on matters of foreign policy, instead of "constantly deferring to the PM's wishes", in the words of a senior diplomat now posted in Delhi. He pointed out that "The vote against Iran in the IAEA and against Syria in the UN had the eager concurrence of the Foreign Secretary, despite contrary advice from our missions in Tehran and Damascus." An official claimed that the Indian mission in Rome "had warned even during the period when the question of Christmas leave for the two Italian marines accused of murder of two Indian fishermen was being discussed in the Kerala High Court that once in Italy, they were likely to remain there". The mission in Rome "had picked up enough signals from the Italian authorities that the marines would not be sent back to India. However, all such inputs were ignored in Delhi". According to an MEA official, "Pressure from the level of the Prime Minister of Italy was constant in order to force the Indian government to allow the marines to return to freedom by misleading the Supreme Court."
Another official viewed as "suspicious" the fact that the second grant of permission for the marines to return to Italy in as many months, this time "for casting their votes in elections" was not accompanied by any cash surety, unlike the first time. "The lack of a demand for a surety indicates the probability that elements in the Government of India were aware that the marines would not return, and hence did not want to place a financial burden on the Italian government". Officials dealing with foreign policy say that "from the start, the matter of the marines was informally getting tracked at the level of the PMO, with the Secretary to the PM coordinating matters with a particular Minister of State for External Affairs. We (professional Foreign Service officers) were kept out of the loop". He said that External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid "did not play any role in deciding matters". Instead, he "went by the signals received from the PMO". Another added that "the Italian government was under pressure from their armed forces to get the marines freed". Also, NATO members "had an interest in avoiding a precedent whereby a NATO soldier would get tried and sentenced for killing a civilian in a backward country in the line of duty". He pointed out that "NATO has refused to allow its men to be held accountable for civilian deaths in any theatre, calling such incidents collateral damage". Thus, "NATO as an alliance had an interest in ensuring that the marines escaped justice in India".
MEA officials say that the contemptuous manner in which the Italian government misled the Supreme Court and — at least formally — the Government of India reflects on the fact that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has moved his foreign policy completely away from that of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, into an entirely pro-Western direction. They claim that "the obvious tilt in Indian foreign policy since 2004 has caused countries across the world to lose respect for India as an independent player", thereby having "disastrous long-term consequences for Indian foreign policy". They point out that the February 15, 2012 murder of the two Indian fishermen took place well within the coastal waters of India, and that therefore the Kerala police were well within their rights to arrest the marines. A senior official added that "only the arrest and incarceration of the Italian ambassador would ensure that India be seen as a country where the law gets applied to all, irrespective of rank or nationality".
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