The United Nations (UN) Tribunal’s Order on Thursday saving the two Italian marines who killed two Indian fishermen in Indian sea waters from the reach of Indian laws is a slap on the face of Indian Government as well as Indians in general. Both the Congress Government controlled by Sonia Gandhi and the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have allowed this subversion of justice, bowing to Italy’s pressure. Instead of writing a piece on this, I thought it is appropriate to present the chronology of the case as many Indian politicians always utter “Aap chronology samjhiye” (Please understand the chronology of events).
- On February 15, 2012, there was a tussle in Indian waters at Kerala’s coast between ship staffers of ‘Enrica Lexie’ and Indian fishermen in boats about the sale of fish. Normally shippers buy fish from fishermen boats in the high seas. The spat started on the pricing of the fish and boatmen started blocking the ship and Italian Military guards started firing resulting in the death of two fishermen. The Indian Coast Guard took custody of the ship and Kerala Police arrests two Italian marines who were the killers.
- Italians and the local Church tried to pacify the dead fishermen’s family and paid money to settle the case but the Kerala High Court rejected the out-of-the-court settlement. The Italian marines were continuing to be held in Kerala jails.
- Enter Sonia Gandhi, an Italian by birth, who wades into the issue. Through a controversial order, the Chief Justice of India, Altamas Kabir takes over the case from the Kerala High Court. It is a known fact that he was well disposed towards the Gandhi family. Justice Kabir then orders the transfer of the Italian marines to the Italian Embassy in Delhi. Harish Salve was the Advocate of the Italian marines and during the last months of 2013, he files a bail petition seeking to allow these marines to go back to Italy to see families and celebrate Christmas. Chief Justice Kabir allows them to go for three months and the Congress Government controlled by Sonia Gandhi did not object.
- In April 2013, the Italian Embassy has the audacity to tell the Supreme Court of India that the Italian marines are not coming back! The following day, the then Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy rushes to the Supreme Court to initiate a Contempt of Court petition against the Italian Embassy and has a big fight with the Chief Justice Altamas Kabir. Sensing the public anger, Harish Salve declares that he would not represent the Italians anymore and Mukul Rohatgi becomes the advocate of the Italians. By that time, the entire BJP leadership including the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi start attacking Sonia Gandhi as the kingpin of this entire incident. Within weeks, due to the public outcry, the Italian Embassy brings back the Italian marines to Delhi. Till the May 2014 Lok Sabha election, Modi rakes up this incident and blames Sonia Gandhi. “Italian marines mercilessly killed our fishermen. If Madam is so ‘patriotic’ can she tell in which jail the marines are lodged in?” thunders Modi in a tweet on March 31, 2014. Modi was attacking Sonia for allowing the marines to be kept in the Italian Embassy in Delhi.
- Modi becomes the Prime Minister in May 2014, and the marines continue to stay in the Italian Embassy instead of jail. Italian marines second advocate Mukul Rohatgi becomes Modi’s Attorney General and the first Advocate Harish Salve is awarded a Padma Bhushan in 2015. All of a sudden, India agrees for the conduct of the case in a UN Tribunal. Indian could have rejected Italy’s application to shift the case to a UN Tribunal but chose not to do so. In 2016, India did not object to the Italian Marines petition in the Supreme Court to go back to Italy and they escaped to Italy.
- Now, on July 2, 2020, the UN Tribunal has ordered that India is eligible only for compensation but criminal charges can’t be conducted in India. A criminal trial can only be conducted in Italy. What kind of delivery of justice is this? Killed Indian fishermen were killed in Indian waters by Italians and the UN Tribunal says the criminal case can be conducted in Killers’ country.
Neither the UPA nor the BJP comes out of this smelling of roses. We can understand the sentiments of the Italian-born Sonia but et tu Modi?