: By not sending its Ambassador-designate to Rome, India has effectively downgraded its diplomatic ties with Italy.

The decision not to send Basant Kumar Gupta followed several meetings on Thursday, including one between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid.

The withholding of Mr. Gupta’s posting was among the several steps contemplated by the government to give effect to Dr. Singh’s warning of “consequences’’ if Italy did not return the two marines accused of killing two Kerala fishermen while on anti-piracy duty on a cargo ship, at the end of the four-week reprieve given by the Supreme Court.

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs clarified that while there was no conscious downgrading of ties, the decision not to send a new Ambassador amounted to the Indian mission in Rome functioning at a lower level.

The MEA is conducting a review of the entire spectrum of India-Italy ties after Rome refused to send back the marines despite its Ambassador having submitted an undertaking to the Supreme Court.

The Italians sent a note verbale to India on March 11, claiming that it was not sending back the marines and raising a dispute with India. Its grouse seemed to be the absence of a reply from India to its March 6 missive.

The MEA sources, however, dismiss this claim. They point out that rarely in international diplomacy such a small window is offered to reply. Moreover, the trend is to send a reminder or two before taking further action.

Meanwhile, PTI, quoting official sources, said all exit points, including airports across the country, have been alerted to prevent Ambassador Daniele Mancini from leaving the country. The decision was taken by the Home Ministry a day after the court restrained the Ambassador from leaving India without its permission, it said.