Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Sunday countered the observation that India was gradually backtracking in the case against the Italian marines, who are facing trial for shooting dead Indian fishermen. “The government is pursuing the case against them under Indian law, but it is now being handled by the home and external affairs ministries,” he said.
Talking to the media on the sidelines of a Coast Guard investiture ceremony at Fort Kochi, Mr. Antony said international agencies had been asked to alert merchant vessels transiting hugging the Indian coast to dense fishing activity in the region. “We have told them that the region is piracy-free and that they should not mistake our fishermen for pirates or terrorists,” he said, adding that measures were being taken to get the region exempted from the ‘high risk area’ (HRA) listing.
The newly-inducted aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, he said, was now docked safely at Karwar. “They are now rechecking all critical systems. A group of Russian technicians who accompanied the vessel has gone back, but the guarantee team is still there. And the Indian Navy is capable of doing the work. Meanwhile, naval combat pilots are training on the carrier, which will be operational very soon.”
Mr. Antony on Sunday stood firmly behind the Indian armed forces, calling them ‘responsible’ and ‘forthright’.
“They will never plot a coup against the civil government. Military intervention in political governance will never occur in India,” he said on the recent revelation of former Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) that a troop movement towards New Delhi in 2012 had made the Union government restive.
Mr. Antony said he had continually interacted with ordinary soldiers manning Indian borders during his stint at the helm of the ministry over seven years now. “From my experience, I can confidently say that Indian military is a responsible force... They talk straight and are not diplomatic, but always abide by the policy decisions taken by the civil government. Matters pertaining to military operations, in the meantime, are handled by them,” he said.
Maintaining that there was nothing new in the DGMO revelations, he said he had responded on the issue with necessary proof in Parliament in 2012 when there was ‘speculation’ on the troop movement. There were official discussions and a report was also received. The so-called movement was a routine training exercise and the chapter was closed, he said, blaming the media for raking up the issue all over again.
Asked about the Navy coming under fire for a spate of recent accidents, he said though everyone was concerned about the safety of platforms and operations, occasional slip-ups could take place. “We are taking all incidents seriously. The Navy has taken corrective measures and ordered courts of inquiry into the incidents that happened in the last several months. But there’s nothing alarming about these incidents.”
He said the Navy was a growing force and every country, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region, wanted to have military cooperation with Indian armed forces, easily one of the best in the world.
Asked if China would be granted observer status in the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), Mr. Antony said India alone could not take a call on the issue. “It is a matter to be collectively decided by all IONS members… While India and China continued to differ in their perception of unsettled border points, occasional tensions are now being diffused in a satisfying manner at the formation level itself. This is in the aftermath of our border cooperation agreement with China. We have an ongoing dialogue and defence secretaries of both countries are meeting in Delhi on Monday.”