The ongoing saga with the Italian marines and their stalled return to India reeks of immaturity and a very child like attitude from the people concerned. Some time during the previous year, 2 Italian marines shot at and killed 2 fishermen from Kerala in the Bay of Bengal, mistaking them for pirates. This was unprovoked firing and rightly, the marines were arrested by the Indian authorities and produced in court in Kerala where they remained in judicial custody for much of last year. Towards the end of the year, during Christmas, based on a request from the Italian envoy representing the Italian government, the High Court of Kerala gave them leave to be with their families for Christmas. This was against the surety of INR 6 crores and a guarantee of the Italian envoy who was personally responsible for returning the marines once Christmas was past. Sure enough, the marines returned to India then.
This recent episode was triggered on the grounds of the Italian elections. Once again, the Italian government approached the Supreme Court to allow the marines to visit Italy so they can cast their vote during the election there. Ostensibly, the Supreme Court allowed this based on the goodwill that was generated the last time the marines had visited Italy. But on this occasion, the good faith has not been repaid. The Italian Foreign Minister is now stating an obscure clause from the International Law, citing that as a reason for retaining the marines in Italy.
I am reminded of the games that we would play as kids. During the games of cricket in the evenings, we would often try to stretch the playing time out as much as we could. That would mean that the last game would begin at a time when it was almost certain that the team batting second would not get a chance to bat as the light would have deteriorated far too much by the time that the team batting first had finished. Consistently, the team winning the toss at that time would bat first. Now, in India, batting has always been the more sought after skill. We would always insist on batsmanship as the essential and exciting of the tasks, followed by bowling and lastly, fielding. Fielding in the gully cricket that we used to play would often mean “standing” followed by “chasing” the ball. After the first team completed batting, it was not unusual for the team members to suddenly remember that they had to study or do home work or that their parents wanted them home at least half an hour earlier. This would leave the second team high and dry. The team members of the team batting first, having extracted their pound of flesh, would not be interested in giving the second team a chance to bat at all.
The similarities in the two situations is starking. The foundation of the transaction in both the situations is trust. The team batting second trusts that the team batting first will give them a fair go with the bat. The Indian government trusted the Italian government to do the right thing and return the marines to undergo trial in the Indian court under Indian law. After all, it was the Indian court that released them to visit Italy in a leap of good faith.
It is fascinating to see the strategy employed by Italy to get marines back into their country. Understandably, this topic was a political hot potato in the recent election in Italy. But I can’t remember any other similar event in the recent past that even comes close to this kind of blatant diplomatic mistrust. One would definitely expect this kind of behavior between kids – for example, in the exchange of stamps. Once the receiving kid gets the stamp that he is after, he/ she becomes incommunicado. In such situations, parents would step in and command the aggressor to either return the stamp or face dire consequences. Who is going to play the role of the parent at a global level?