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HindustanTimes Sun,13 Jul 2014
An undiplomatic sleight of hand
Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 12, 2013
First Published: 22:38 IST(12/3/2013)
Last Updated: 22:55 IST(12/3/2013)

'It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.' Clearly, for India there seems no question of the choice referred to by the great Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli when it comes to negotiating tricky international waters.

In what can only be described as a slap in the face for India, Italy has now refused to return two marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. The two were magnanimously allowed to go home to vote in the messy elections in Italy on the assurance from the authorities in that country that they would return to stand trial.

Italy has now discovered that according to the principle of immunity from trial by the organs of a foreign State, the two marines do not come under New Delhi's jurisdiction.

The Italians have also been saying that the incident took place in international waters, a point contested by India. While the Italians, clearly in breach of trust, are quoting from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in defence of their marines, the Indian government has come up with various half-hearted responses.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has termed the move by Italy as unacceptable while the external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, says he will take up the matter after reading a letter which has been sent from Italy.

The Italian envoy has been summoned by the ministry of external affairs as is expected in such a case. The Italians have proved a thorn in the side for India over the controversial AgustaWestland deal as well with their courts' refusal to hand over documents which could prove financial misdemeanor in the chopper contract.

If indeed, the Italians are sure that they are in the right, surely they should not belittle the Indian judicial system by first promising to return the officers and then going back on their word.

Rome's claim that it wanted a diplomatic solution is hardly helped by this very undiplomatic sleight of hand. On New Delhi's part, it should be very clear that this deception could have economic and other ramifications.

If India really wants to be a regional superpower, it cannot be caught flatfooted by a country which in recent times has not only been through the economic grinder but has also proved politically volatile and ungovernable in many ways.

India must do all it can to protect the rights of its citizens, and it is hardly doing that by refraining to read the riot act to the Italians. It is passing strange that such a concession as being allowed to go home to vote was permitted in the first place, but clearly it was done in good faith.

A country that cannot honour its international commitments, howsoever much it may split hairs on the territoriality related to the crime, can't obviously be taken too seriously as a trading partner.

As if to add salt to the wounds of the kin of the dead fisherman, one of the accused has been reported as saying, "Now we are finally happy." This should make New Delhi hopping mad and not just mildly annoyed as seems to be the case at present.


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