Battling anger across the political spectrum for allowing Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen to leave India, an embarrassed government on Tuesday summoned the Italian envoy, demanding that the men be sent back to face trial.
On Monday, Rome conveyed to New Delhi that marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone would not go back to India in view of the “formal international controversy” between the two countries. Italy claims shooting took place in international waters. India maintains that the killings took place in its waters.
The marines were allowed four weeks’ leave in the last week of February to vote in their country's election. The permission came after Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini gave an undertaking to the Supreme Court that the two would come back.
The marines are accused of gunning down Ajesh Binki and V Jalestine off Kerala’s coast in February 2012. The marines claim they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
They can’t be tried in Indian courts and the issue can only be resolved through a diplomatic process, Italy has said.
Deftly outmaneuvered by Rome, New Delhi summoned Mancini to register protest even as the BJP and Left mounted an offensive, saying the government had colluded with the Italians.
Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai told Mancini that his country was obliged to send back the marines. Italy, however is unlikely to take note unless some hard steps are taken on the diplomatic front as New Delhi's legal options are limited.
“Italy is obliged… to ensure that the two marines returned in the timeframe given by the SC,” Mathai said. “The Italian position is not acceptable to India.”
While BJP will move a Calling Attention Motion in both the House, the Left, too, will raise the issue in Parliament on Wednesday. The Left MPs, who met the PM on Tuesday, quoted him as saying that the Italian action was “unacceptable”.
“We fear that it was a high-level conspiracy to let them off. What is it at stake is not only the integrity of the judicial process but even the sovereignty of India,” said KN Balagopal, CPM's Rajya Sabha member.
“Why is it that India is found soft where Italy is concerned -- be it Quottarocchi or the marines,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
As protests raged in his state, Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy arrived in New Delhi to apprise the Centre of the growing discontent over the matter. The state would also seek legal opinion to ensure justice for the fishermen's families, he said.