A veteran journalist who enjoys looking at the quirky side of life

R K Nair

The marine imbroglio

| Updated on February 07, 2014

Italian Marines Salvatore Girone (L) and Massimiliano Latorre (R). File Photo.   -  PTI

The vexatious trial of the two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen is threatening to snowball into a diplomatic crisis that can damage India's relations not only with Italy but with the European Union as well. A combination of political compulsions and diplomatic jingoism has prevented the case from making any headway in almost two years since the arrest of the marines. The Centre is yet to decide whether or not to try them under the stringent anti-terrorism law that carries mandatory death penalty.

The Italian Government's impatience with the legal flip-flop is understandable, especially since it had paid Rs 1 crore as compensation to the kin of each of the two fishermen soon after the unfortunate incident. It had also offered to try the trigger-happy marines in their country under Italian laws. The Indian Government, however, made it a prestige issue and insisted on their trial in India.

A fortnight after the killing of the two fishermen, a Singapore flag-bearing ship owned by an NRI group rammed a fishing boat in the same waters, killing five fishermen. After the initial brouhaha, the incident was quietly forgotten and it's not known if, and to what extent, the victims' families were compensated. A few years earlier, a Chinese trawler involved in a similar incident off the Kerala coast was let off after payment of Rs 5 lakh as compensation.

Then why this special treatment to the Italians? It is reasonable to suspect that the "Sonia factor" is at work here. The UPA Government apparently does not want to be seen as being soft to the Italians and give the Opposition a handle to work up the voters on the issue. Add to it India's penchant for flaunting its "emerging superpower" credentials and its diplomatically obdurate, if legally vacillating, stand becomes clear.

But, such obduracy in international matters does the country no good. It not only shows India in poor light but also alienates its friends and allies as the signals emanating from the European Union clearly suggest. India was vociferous about the ill-treatment of one of its diplomats accused of visa fraud in the US recently and got her released even at the risk of rupturing the ties with that country. It is only fair that we see Italy's concerns over the marines issue in the same spirit and settle it in an amicable manner before it snowballs into a full-blown crisis.

Published on February 07, 2014

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