Saturday, February 25, 2012

India and Its Raymond Davises

At first sight, the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines off the coast of Kerala and the murder of three Pakistanis by an American government official exactly about a year ago seem to be starkly different.

However, scratch the surface and the similarities can be startling:

  • There was an absolute denial of wrongdoing on the part of the accused (for obvious reasons) – the American, Raymond Davis, which it would be revealed later that he was a covert CIA agent, claimed that he fired in self-defence; the Italian marines, too, made a similar claim, despite others aboard the fishing trawler asserting that they weren’t in possession of arms. Note that Indian fishermen are not allowed by law to carry arms.

  • Davis and the marines, despite their “innocence”, were incarcerated swiftly. Their respective homelands, the USA and Italy respectively, swung into action, demanding their immediate release citing international human rights and UN conventions – wonder what happened to them when the incidents occurred. The US (and the NATO) threatened Pakistan of dire consequences; hyperbole of a healthy bilateral relationship going sour abounded the Pentagon’s media rooms. Italian officials of various hues and ranks have landed in Indian shores, not to mention the opening of dedicated diplomatic channels, to extricate the two sailors.

  • Repulsive as this statement may seem, politics has had a role to play in both the incidents: following Davis’ lodging in the Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore, the Pakistani government virtually cut off all communication with its ‘ally’ against terror, the US. The ISI, the power bearer sans responsibility, was content at playing second-fiddle throughout, leaving the corruption-besieged PPP government to field inconvenient questions about its next action against Davis. Already in India, the UPA-led government at the Centre has indicated that the issue would be left to its Kerala counterpart, when it ought to be at the forefront.

  • And then there has been the curious case of a newly consecrated Kerala Cardinal making a slew of unfortunate statements, among his notable gaffes of utterances (or was it malice?) being he will “ask the government not to act in haste”, “the primary opposition party in Kerala (the CPM) would derive mileage out of the incident” and “errors were made as fishermen were mistaken for pirates”. The icing on this ignominious cake came from his reported statements that his heart went out to the Catholic fishermen who died and that he would pursue the issue with Catholic ministers of the Kerala Cabinet. Probably his heart would not have melted had the fishermen belonged to another religion, or maybe, Christian sect?
    If ever Italy was looking for someone to advocate their cause, it must verily be him.
    True, the Cardinal may have disowned the statements; the media house may have issued an apology  — but the damage was already done.

  • In Pakistan, the wife of one of Davis’ victims committed suicide, worried that she may not be provided adequate compensation. In an alarming corollary, the wife of one of the Indian fisherman has petitioned a court stating that she needs a compensation of Rs one crore and that she will not be able to foot the litigation expenses.

  • The Pakistani government had to do a balancing act between appeasing public sentiment and complying with the US, albeit grudgingly. Davis was eventually released, but not before ‘blood money’ was provided to the kin of the deceased. Of course it had the leverage of access to its hinterland to Afghanistan which it could use as a pawn against the US. Italy is no US and we do not need any leverage to assert our authority against foreigners committing crimes on Indian soil or waters.

  • This brings us to a vital aspect of our international diplomacy. Politeness is our forte; we abide by the dictum ‘athithi devo bhava’, but we must also have the gumption to assert that others’ nose ends where ours begin. Our track record in this regard isn’t too inspiring. For instance, during 26/11, we let Mossad and FBI agents walk all over our crime spots; the US is still debating whether it needs to extradite David Headley to India, whose involvement in a host of terror activities has been conclusively proved. Portugal has flatly refused to extradite Abu Salem. However, by accommodating the Italians in the investigation into the incident, we are not covering ourselves with glory.
We can make a beginning by awarding the right punishment to the reckless sailors. Italy can choose to bar olive oil and pasta export to our country.