A good insight from MJ Akbar.
Falling for yet another comic con MJ Akbar
17 March 2013, 04:45 AM IST
When clever people come to power they often make a simple mistake. They think the rest of us are fools.
Note the first substantive suggestion , as distinct from political verbiage , that the UPA gover nment made in order to “punish” Italy, after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh decreed that Rome had taken the “unacceptable” decision to give safe haven to marines accused of murder by violating a parole given by India’s Supreme Court. The Supreme Court acted on an assurance from Italy’s ambassador in Delhi Daniele Mancini, through an affidavit, that the marines would return to India. What did UPA “threaten” to do? It wanted to expel Mancini.
This would have been the perfect complicit coup between Delhi and Rome. Mancini is the one ranking Italian on Indian soil who can be held accountable. The UPA wanted him to escape through false dust. Once he left India, Congress could have officially begun to chase him with the same dedication and diligence it has shown in pursuit of Bofors-accused Ottavio Quattrochi. A clearly upset Supreme Court, acting on the intervention of Subramaniam Swamy, sabotaged this neat ploy; otherwise Mancini would have been dancing all the way back to another posting. His replacement would have arrived in a couple of months, with minimum fanfare and maximum noise about the larger interests of Indo-Italian relations. The dust would settle. Game over.
Since Italy is famous for the harlequin, a stock comic character in its commedia dell’Arte , it is perfectly logical that this staged drama included a large dollop of farce. There has been no bigger joke in recent times than the Italian argument before the Supreme Court that the marines were desperately needed at home to vote in Italy’s national elections. Clearly, we have all been taught a lie in school: democracy did not begin in Greece, but in Italy. Rome’s passionate zeal for the ballot box is such that it will go to any extent, including prevarication before a Supreme Court, to protect a marine’s right to vote.
The surprise is that the Supreme Court proved so gullible. Let us assume, for a moment, that the future of Italy did indeed rest on whether the marines voted for either a somber jester called Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, or Silvio Berlusconi, who practices at night what the Kama Sutra merely preaches by day. The marines could have sent in their decision by postal ballot. How did Mancini and his fellow Italians in the Delhi mission vote? Did the Italian government send business class tickets to Mancini so that he could go to a booth in his neighbourhood parish? Or should we believe that Italian boys, like the young marines, never vote without consulting their mamma; and mamma never discusses what Berlusconi has been up to on the phone?
The Supreme Court gave marines four weeks of furlough . That does seem a bit excessive for a duty that takes a day. Has the court, in this case, operating on two sets of law, one for Italians and one for Indians? The marines were permitted to go home for Christmas last year. By this precedence, every Indian accused of murder , not to mention lesser crimes like rape, should be allowed to go home to mummy for Holi, Easter, Id and Diwali.
As events unfold, questions bubble up. One of the big mysteries of the last union cabinet reshuffle was the sudden departure of veteran Congress leader S M Krishna from the external affairs ministry. True, he had goofed up once, when he began reading out the wrong speech at the United Nations. But this is nothing on the scale of home minister Sushil Shinde, who performed a similar feat in Parliament, and in addition makes sure that not a week passes without adequate entertainment forreporters. The Prime Minister had no grounds for complaint against Krishna. Krishna faithfully implemented the PM’s soft line on Pakistan, despite the usual sequence of provocations. If Krishna was less than outstanding in handling his portfolio, he was not incompetent either. Moreover, he had not committed any political faux pas that would have hurt Congress chances in the coming Karnataka elections, as Beni Prasad Verma did in Uttar Pradesh. Why was Krishna dropped?
Could it be that Congress needed a pliable foreign minister who could be trusted not only to collude with Italy in a delicate pirouette, but also to hold his tongue for all time in the future?
Since no one explains, these matters can only dwell in the realm of speculation. But we can say one thing with sufficient authority. India’s foreign policy is now fashioned by the idealism of that great American philosopher and public intellectual, Groucho Marx. As Groucho once said, ‘I have principles! And if you don’t like them, I have others…’