Enrica Lexie Case: An Art of Capitulation
The Union government and the main ruling party at the centre have much to explain regarding the Italian marines case. At the most fundamental level, the Bharatiya Janata Party must answer what its position would be if it were in the opposition today. Would it have accepted any other government’s decision to take the case to the PCA?
India lost jurisdiction over two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in the year 2012. The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled against the prosecution of the Italian marines in India and asked the Italian government to continue their prosecution in their home country under their domestic laws. It is a huge setback to the expectations that the Modi government would ensure the return of Italian marines to India and that the Supreme Court of India would institute the prosecution procedure under Indian law.
Despite the setback, there is no debate on the so-called national television channels demanding the reasons for losing the case. There are no accusations and counteraccusations traded between the government and the opposition on this matter. There is no outrage in civil society about the possibility of a complete denial of justice to the killed fishermen. There are no diplomatic moves to call the bluff on the verdict of the divided bench that denied India any right to punish those guilty of killing its poor fishermen. The government appears to dutifully abide by the judgment. India has not just lost a judicial case in the international forum, but we have lost our soul. Or should it be termed as selling the soul in pursuit of some perceived national interest? Since the soul is already lost or sold out, it is futile to expect a soul-searching on why we are even not mourning the judgment? Some expert commentators are even going overboard expressing satisfaction over the PCA’s ruling for proper compensation to the deceased fishermen’s families. While the government must attempt to get these families maximum compensation from Italy, it must not be forgotten that they have earlier refused the offers to settle the case in lieu of monetary compensation.
In February 2012, the two fishermen - Ajeesh Pink and Valentine Jelastine- on board the St. Anthony fishing boat were murdered by the Italian marines on board the oil tanker named Enrica Lexie. The Indian Coast Guard promptly got hold of the tanker and arrested two marines - Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone - who had shot the fishermen. The incident caused uproars in India and Italy for opposite reasons. India was outraged by the killings, while Italy felt humiliated by the arrest of its marines. A diplomatic tussle ensued from the national outrage of India and the national anger over humiliation in Italy. The Italian anger proved to be much more resilient and stronger than the Indian outrage. Subsequently, the court in India allowed the marines to return to Italy on parole and Manmohan Singh government had a tough time ensuring their return to India. The issue had the potential to harm the Congress party in the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Kerala and at the national level as well. Consequently, the Manmohan Singh government left no stone unturned to press for early and hard punishment to the Italian marines. This approach invited the wrath of Italy and the deep displeasure of the European Union. Italy, on the other hand, explored all options to pressurize the Indian government by threatening trade sanctions and by pressing the EU into its service.
In the year 2015, Italy decided to approach the PCA and India offered its cooperation. India lost the case even at that time, at least in terms of sincerity to its citizens. Around the same period, India was campaigning very hard for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). Italy, as a prior member of the NSG, changed its earlier position and turned favourable to India being admitted into the elite nuclear club. Even though India secured Italian support in the NSG, it is still not a member of the coveted group. Now, India, by being a willing party to the case in the PCA, has forfeited jurisdiction over the Italian marines. From a position of either-or, India has been reduced to a position of neither-nor in the span of five years.
At this point, we need to ask ourselves whether any European country would have agreed to bring any case to the PCA where Indian marines were involved in the death of a single EU citizen. The Enrica Lexie case has once again proved that there is no equal value of human life in international relations. The presumed safety and health of Italian marines acquired more significance for the European community over the actual death of two Indian fishermen. But how can one find fault with the Italian position if one believes in the interests of a country’s citizens being a country’s national interest? Italy certainly did what it could do for its marines. The question is whether India put in its best efforts to secure justice for its two citizens who were done to death, and their family members?
The Union government and the main ruling party at the centre have much to explain regarding this case. At the most fundamental level, the Bharatiya Janata Party must answer what its position would be if it were in the opposition today. Would it have accepted any other government’s decision to take the case to the PCA? Would it have remained contented with the government’s decision to politely accept the PCA verdict? Time and again it is being proved that for the BJP the definition of national interest changes depending on whether it is on the treasury benches or in the opposition in Parliament. The BJP continues to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds in many matters of national interest and the country’s foreign affairs. The previous government of Manmohan Singh was over-cautious and had hardened the Indian position so much that it united the EU with Italy in the cause of the safety of the marines. The incumbent government has been either over-casual in its approach or has wanted to use the case as a bargaining chip with Italy and the EU.
In a country where people are increasingly rooting for instant justice and powerful media platforms are continuously glorifying revenge and tit-for-tat tactics, the national silence on the PCA verdict and the government’s meek acceptance of it is self-explanatory. Justice and national interest are defined as per the convenience and interest of the ruling classes. Everyone in the country is not entitled to be counted in the claim of national interest. Rather, they could become sacrificial pawns in the game of national interest as conceived by the ruling classes.