Originally Published 2013-03-14 00:00:00 Published on Mar 14, 2013
It is time we realised that the battle over Italian Marines is lost. Now we need to introspect and realise that, what people say to our faces and think of us are two very different things. And we have no one but ourselves to blame for living in La La Land.
Taken for granted, and for a ride
Amidst the outrage of the Italian marines flying the coop, some serious questions stand out for introspection and reflection.

The first is Italy's (and much of the rest of the world's) distrust of India's legal system - both investigative and judicial. With investigative agencies who are so brazenly used as political tools - like the Central Bureau of Investigation is - and deliberately either bungle cases, as with Ottavio Quattrocchi, or go after others with a vengeance, as with Jagan Mohan Reddy, who would have any faith in them anyway? This was something that could have gone either way. Sensing too much anti-Italian xenophobia, the marines could have been scape-goated. There were multiple players here and the manipulation web was too complex between the various shades of Kerala and central politics. Alternately, as conspiracy theories go - their verdict could have been leveraged against AgustaWestland investigations. Given how precarious any shady deal is, the Italian Government's trust could only go so far and no further.

The very fact that we are yet to establish conclusively where the encounter took place as opposed to reiterating claim and counter-claim speaks volumes. After all, it has taken a whole year merely to establish internal jurisdiction over the case.

Now, at the risk of contempt, people don't exactly have a very rosy view of our judiciary either. Never expressed in public, this is usually a whisper, but uniform across the board. What does one make of this? Racism? Possibly. But this credibility deficit also manifests in the nuclear liability legislation, which is why no manufacturer wants to build reactors here as is.

Quite possibly now, the trial of these marines - actually the question of jurisdiction itself - will go to an international court. At that point the proof of the pudding will lie in how well Indian lawyers can convince an international court of India's jurisdiction. As things stand, international law is an expanding field, and all one has right now - without getting into the marines' guilt - are two very different arguments on jurisdiction.

As the saying goes, 'We all are excellent lawyers for our mistakes and even better judges for other people's mistakes'. Obviously for us, our arguments will seem just - an international arbiter may look at things very differently.

Nothing here takes away from the fact of - nor is it an excuse for - promise welshing. And that is the crux of what has happened. Italy promised to bring the marines back, and now it says it will not. Italy has formalised without stating its belief in the banana nature of our institutions.

This then is an exact replay of our relations with the Danes after the Kim Davy episode. Somehow, the Union Ministry of External Affairs believes that ignoring Danish diplomats here will compensate for the Ministry's dismal performance at the Kim Davy hearing - but then this is what the Ministry is notorious for - using state institutions and its coercive mechanisms to compensate for their incompetence. Well, here is the news. The Danes and other OECD countries don't really care too much if they get invited for independence day, or have a flunkey receive them on the airport tarmac. Unlike the IFS, they actually have to perform, and don't get paid for massaging ministerial egos.

So, where to from here? First the issue will be "studied" and "carefully examined" - jargon for "we're clueless". Then, after some hot air from both elected and unelected grandees - usually all meaningless - the External Affairs Ministry will swing into action. The Ministry will do what it does best - assume that the petty parties, and pompous protocol so important to it, are equally important to others. Expect diplomatic 'sanctions' to follow - usually ignoring Italy at international fora. The Supreme Court will also fret and fume - though how exactly its rulings will be enforced is hard to see.

Given the diplomatic immunity of the Italian Ambassador, he cannot be arrested or tried in spite of his deliberately false undertaking. Italy is too interwoven into global supply chains for industrial or trade sanctions to be practical. After all almost every piece of modern military and civil technology has some Italian content in it - including Air India's big hope, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

There is, however, one positive in this. Any hope the Government had of fixing the chopper investigation has gone. Of course, some have suggested this was part of the quid pro quo and the investigation will be dropped in due course.

It is time we realised this battle is lost. Now we need to introspect and realise that, what people say to our faces and think of us are two very different things. And we have no one but ourselves to blame for living in La La Land. Screaming from the rooftops and baying for blood is very satisfying - but in the end we only erode our credibility.

(The author is a Programme Manager at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy : The Pioneer, March 14, 2013

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