India, one of the main architects of the Non-Aligned Movement, has always fiercely stood for the right of every country and its people to decide upon their national character and destiny democratically.
This gave India its global character of opposing any form of interference by any power in the internal affairs of any sovereign country.
This also defined India’s approach to global negotiations like on WTO or climate change. This, in turn, meant that India, with equal ferocity, upholds and safeguards its sovereignty.
Unfortunately, this hallmark foreign policy is undergoing a metamorphosis. Our international positioning, say on Iran, Syria or the downgrading of support to the Palestinian struggle etc, is increasingly becoming one of toeing the US line, thus, making our foreign policy subservient to US global strategic interests.
In a sense such a change was inevitable given the unabashed embrace of neo-liberalism and its trajectory of economic reforms.
Such a trajectory predominantly rests on appeasement of international finance capital hoping to attract larger foreign capital inflows to accelerate our domestic economic growth rate.
It is a different matter that such a strategy is creating two Indias with an ever widening hiatus between them. In terms of foreign policy, this leads to ever increasing compromises that undermine our sovereignty fearing the annoyance of global economic powers.
The latest such instance is the Italian government’s refusal to return two marines, prime accused in the killing of Indian fishermen from Kerala on February 15, 2012, to continue their trial in the Indian courts.
These marines were permitted by the Supreme Court to proceed to cast their votes in Italian elections and were to return to India’s judicial custody for the continuation of their trial.
However, the Italian government has now reneged on the solemn assurances given by its ambassador to India to the Supreme Court.
The prime minister was forced to make a statement in Parliament saying “actions of government of Italy are not acceptable” and if Italy does “not keep their word there will be consequences for our relations”.
Undertrials in India are not allowed by law to cast their vote in an election. Then, how can these Italian marines charged with murder in Indian waters and facing trial under Indian law be treated differently?
Further, these marines were already allowed once to proceed to Italy to celebrate Christmas with their families.
Will the inmates of, say, Delhi’s Tihar jail be allowed to celebrate the forthcoming Holi festival with their families? Clearly, a different set of rules seem to be followed to appease the G-7 countries.
This is not an isolated instance. Way back in 1984, when poisonous toxic gas leaked from Bhopal’s Union Carbide factory, the chairman of the corporation, Warren Anderson, who came to India four days later from the US was arrested.
He, however, managed to escape within a few hours, allegedly using the state government’s plane.
Later in 1995, a huge cache of arms and ammunition was airdropped in West Bengal’s Purulia district. The main accused, Kim Davy, a Danish citizen whose real name is Niels Holck, was allowed to escape when the plane that they used to drop the arms landed at Bombay Airport.
His escape was allegedly facilitated by a then Member of Parliament, Pappu Yadav (currently in custody facing trial as the prime accused in the murder of Bihar CPI(M)’s Purnea MLA Ajit Sarkar).
His associate Peter Bleach admitted that these arms were meant to help anti-CPI(M) led Left Front government forces create violent anarchy and chaos, which could be used as a pretext to impose President’s rule in West Bengal.
Bleach was granted a presidential pardon on January 30, 2004, under the BJP-led NDA government with the Trinamool Congress as a coalition partner.
David Headley, the mastermind who surveyed the targets that were hit by terrorists in Mumbai 26/11 attack was similarly allowed to escape before facing trial under Indian law.
India had initially insisted that Headley had to face trial in the Indian courts as it was conclusively proved that he had played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
The most famous of such instances is that of Ottavio Quattrocchi. Following the exposure of the Bofors scam in the 1986 $ 15 billion deal, Quattrocchi left India in 1993 to avoid being arrested.
His London bank accounts were frozen but were then mysteriously unfrozen. In 2011, a Delhi court allowed the CBI to close its criminal case against Quattrocchi.
Such an undermining of India’s sovereignty, particularly with regard to foreign nationals who violate Indian law with impunity reflects upon the (in)capability of the Indian State in ensuring the sanctity of our sovereignty.
The eagerness to attract foreign investments, virtually succumbing to the dictates of international finance capital, is leading India to be increasingly seen as a State that vacillates to firmly uphold our political sovereignty and the rule of law.
Such an appeasement to foreign capital at the expense of our sovereignty undermines the vital essence and character of the Indian nation.
Surrender of economic sovereignty in the name of neo-liberal reforms can never stop there, and will necessarily lead to the undermining of our political sovereignty.
One can only hope that the prime minister will uphold, both in spirit and letter, the commitment he made to the Parliament regarding the Italian marines.
Thereby he must display the conviction of a prime minister under oath to uphold the inviolability of the Indian Constitution and sovereignty.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP
The views expressed by the author are personal