Events in Italy last month should have alerted the Indian authorities that Rome had no intention of returning the marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone to India to stand trial for killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano had given a public assurance to his countrymen that the two marines would be back home unscathed. When they returned to Italy to vote,they were personally received at the airport by Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi. Then Prime Minister Mario Monti also met them. A courageous Italian journalist pointed out that the marines were not exactly heroes kidnapped by a radical group such as the al-Qaeda,as was being portrayed in the media. She was flooded with hate mail.
Touch me not
Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has got into trouble with conservative clerics for hugging a weeping Hugo Chavezs mother at the Venezuelan leaders funeral. Vice-President Hamid Ansari recalls from his years as a diplomat that it is always a problem reconciling different cultural traditions of greeting and mourning. Indira Gandhi had a clear-cut rule: that she would shake hands with all officers of military rank and greet everyone else with folded hands. Many years ago,the Iranian ambassador to India was very keen to meet Ansari,then in the diplomatic service,to sort out what he called a pressing matter. He wanted to ensure that when the then speaker of Iranian Parliament,Hashemi Rafsanjani,visited India and met Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,he would be greeted with a namaskar rather than a handshake. Conservative Iranians do not want to be touched by a woman. For that matter,Gandhi herself was a shade embarrassed when she was embraced by Yasser Arafat in an over-enthusiastic greeting.
Dialogue on hold
The Ottawa Dialogue is a back-channel diplomatic exercise for retired Indian and Pakistani military officials and diplomats and is funded by the USA,UK and Canada. Usually,there are some 20 participants from each side and they debate defence issues from conventional CBMs to the Siachen dispute. The Ottawa Dialogue has held conferences in a number of cities. The most recent meeting was scheduled for New Delhi,but there is a hitch. Former air chief S P Tyagi heads the India chapter and is being investigated in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. As a consequence,the Ottawa Dialogue has been temporarily put on hold.
With all the hype over International Womens Day on March 8,TMC MP Derek OBrien wondered why no one in India talked about Mens Day. In fact,Mens Day is celebrated on November 19 but it does not attract much attention. The tradition was first started in 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago and it soon spread to other countries. Coincidentally,November 19 also happens to be the birthday of Indira Gandhi,who was often described as the only man in her Cabinet.
It has taken two years for the BJP to raise in Parliament the issue of Robert Vadras land dealings. When the story first broke in the press,the majority view in the party was that one should not drag politicians families into the debate as this could set a dangerous trend. Arun Jaitley,Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh were among the few to dissent. Later,the RSS ticked off the BJP leadership for adopting a passive approach. When fresh revelations concerning the Rajasthan governments largesse to Vadra surfaced in the media recently,the BJP took up the issue in both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday and demanded a CBI probe,to be monitored by the court. Parliament was adjourned for the day,but hardliners in the party felt it was a case of too little too late.
Slip-up in focus
Following the seizure of 26 kg of heroin from an alleged drug peddler in Punjab,with Olympic bronze medalist Vijender Singhs name figuring in the case,the prevalence of drug abuse among the youth of Punjab has come under scrutiny. Congresspersons are eager to point out that credit should be given to Rahul Gandhi for being the first to focus on this serious social problem during a speech he made at Panjab University in October last year. To bring home this point,a request was made to TV channels to replay Gandhis Panjab University speech. Television channels obliged,but the constant replays did not enhance Gandhis image since they brought out the fact that he had goofed up. He first stated that 10 out of seven youth in Punjab are on drugs and only then corrected himself to say he meant seven out of 10 youth.