Stunned by Italy going back on its sovereign assurance on the return of the Italian marines facing trial in India for killing two fishermen,the External Affairs Ministry Tuesday summoned Italian ambassador Daniele Mancini and read him the riot act.
His expulsion,sources said,is being actively considered as one of the options New Delhi can exercise in response to Romes sudden decision that was announced late on Monday. Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai held meetings with key MEA officials as the government considered its options through Tuesday.
The diplomatic options discussed include minimum diplomatic contact with Italy – like India has with Denmark in recent years over the Kim Davy extradition issue – or snapping all diplomatic ties which includes folding up its mission in Rome and asking the Italians to shut theirs in India,and cancelling business contracts with Italian companies,the sources said.
Besides,the government is also talking to legal experts and law ministry officials to explore legal options.
The diplomatic row has come at a time when India does not have an ambassador in Italy since Debabrata Saha retired in December. His successor,Basant K Gupta,is expected to go to Rome later this month and the embassy in Rome is being run by charge daffaires Ravi Shankar.
Sources said the pace and extent of escalation will have to be a political call. All options are being explored with their pros and cons,but the political leadership has to decide which one to opt for, a source said.
Terming this as an unprecedented breach of sovereign guarantee by an envoy on behalf of a country,sources said the Italian ambassador had given an undertaking to the Supreme Court on February 9 that he takes full responsibility to ensure that the two marines comply with the courts orders.
The envoy had also said the Italian marines will be kept in custody throughout,under the control and supervision of the Italian government which will take full responsibility for securing the return of the marines on or before the expiry of the period submitted before the Supreme Court.
However,there is no collateral with the government or the court to use as leverage. And the government cant legally act against the Italian ambassador and prosecute him since he enjoys diplomatic immunity under the Vienna convention.
An MEA statement issued after Mancini was summoned to the ministry said that New Delhi does not agree with the position conveyed by the Italian government to set up a meeting at the diplomatic level to reach an amicable solution. This request was made on March 6.
The Italian ambassador was summoned by the foreign secretary today and government of Indias position on this matter was conveyed to him in the strongest of terms. It was conveyed to him that India expects Republic of Italy as a country that is committed to the rule of law to fulfil the sovereign undertaking given by it to the Supreme Court of India, the statement said.
It was only following this undertaking that the Supreme Court allowed the two marines to travel to and remain in Italy for a period of four weeks and return to India under the care,supervision and control of the Italian republic. It was conveyed to the Italian ambassador that the Italian government was obliged to ensure their return to India within the stipulated period as per the terms of the Supreme Court order, it said.
Earlier on Tuesday,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Left MPs that the issue will be taken up with Italy so that the accused soldiers could be brought back to face trial for killing the two Indian fishermen.
Left MPs who met the Prime Minister said Singh told them Italys decision was unacceptable. However,PMO sources said Singh only told the delegation that the matter would be looked into and he will ask External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid to take up the issue with Italy.
The CPM also wanted the Supreme Court to explain the rationale behind allowing the marines to travel to Italy to cast their vote in national elections. Under the Indian law undertrials are to not allowed to vote. If that is the norm for Indian undertrials under Indian laws,why the same is not valid for Italians under the Indian law? Why should this be different for the Italian marines? CPM leader Sitaram Yechury asked.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar alleged that Italys refusal to send back the two marines was an instance of diplomatic collusion between the UPA government and the government in Italy.
The whole incident appears to have been scripted. Italy is a democratic country and not a banana republic. The Indian government must prevail upon Italy to hand over the two marines, Javadekar said.
In Kerala,the CPM and the BJP accused the state government of colluding with the Centre to facilitate the exit of the marines. Responding to the criticism,Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said he would meet Prime Minister Singh Wednesday to demand the Centre exert pressure on Italy to change its decision.
Although Chandys Delhi-visit was scheduled earlier,his meeting with the PM was fixed after the Italian decision. He is also due to meet Khurshid,his office said. Chandy told reporters that the state government would also explore legal options.
with inputs from ENS,Thiruvananthapuram