South Block will consider normalisation of ties with Italy only after the Supreme Court takes up the matter on Tuesday, according to official sources in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
Not sending Basant Kumar Gupta to take up the Ambassador post in Rome was one of the measures taken by the MEA to show its displeasure over Italy’s earlier decision not to send back the marines, accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast. Now that the marines are back in India and top Italian leaders have said they have back-paddled on the earlier defiance to the Supreme Court to avoid diplomatic isolation, the MEA is yet to respond on dispatching Mr. Gupta.
Explaining the reason, the sources said the issue would only be considered after the court takes up on Tuesday the matter of the marines and Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini’s assurances to it.
At the previous hearing last month, the court pulled up Mr. Mancini for going back on his commitment of ensuring the return of the marines after they had been let off for four weeks to vote in the general elections and spend some time with their families.
The court had also restrained the Ambassador from leaving India, saying he could not claim diplomatic immunity because he had violated the undertaking given to it. “The person [Mr. Mancini] who has come to this court as petitioner, we don’t think he has any immunity. What do you think of our judicial system,” the court had observed.
Now that these aspects are in the past, officials expect the Supreme Court to settle things so that the MEA will be in a position to normalise ties with Italy.
The marines had been arrested in Kerala after they fired from a cargo ship in February last year, killing two Indians on a fishing boat.
While the marines were grounded in India, their case moved to the Supreme Court. As they had been allowed by the Kerala High Court to go to Italy for Christmas after posting a huge bail bond, the Supreme Court also permitted them to go home for the Italian elections. The court, however, took the Italian Ambassador’s word that the marines would return in four weeks as the only guarantee.
But two weeks after they left India, Italy announced that it would not be sending back the marines though its Ambassador had promised the court that they would do so. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the reneging on the promise as an act that would have “consequences.”
The MEA began reviewing ties with Italy and held back sending the new Ambassador to take up the posting. But in a turnaround, the marines returned within the Supreme Court’s four-week window. Officials now expect the court to take up the issue of setting up a special court and the transfer of investigation to the National Investigation Agency.