People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 11

March 17, 2013




Political Sovereignty Getting Undermined


THE issue of Italian government’s refusal to return two marines, prime accused in the killing of Indian fishermen from Kerala on February 15, 2012, to continue their trial in the Indian courts saw both the houses of the parliament expressing a sense of outrage.  These marines were permitted by the Supreme Court to proceed to cast their votes in Italian elections and were to return back to India’s judicial custody for the continuation of their trial.  However, the Italian government has now reneged on the solemn assurances given by its Ambassador to India to the Supreme Court assuring the return of the marines. 


The question that rocked the parliament was how India permitted the virtual escape of these two Italian prisoners from its custody. The prime minister was forced to make a statement in both the houses where he assured that the “actions of government of Italy are not acceptable”.  The PM further said that if Italy does “not keep their word there will be consequences for our relations”. 


The reason for the outrage in the parliament reflecting the outrage among the people, particularly in Kerala, is the following: Under-trials in India are not allowed by law to cast their vote in an election. Then, how can these Italian marines charged for murder in Indian waters (Indian sovereign territory) and facing trial under Indian law be treated differently than Indian under-trials? Further, these marines were already allowed once to proceed to Italy to celebrate Christmas with their families.  Will the inmates of, say, Delhi’s Tihar jail be allowed to celebrate the forthcoming Holi festival with their families?  Clearly, different set of rules seem to be followed with regard to these Italians.


There is a larger issue involved concerning the sovereignty of our country and the capability of the Indian State in ensuring the sanctity of our sovereignty.  These Italian marines had violated Indian law in Indian territory and, hence, need to be punished under our law.  A matter of more serious concern is the fact that such a lapse or connivance in subverting India’s sovereignty, as it happens in this case, is not an isolated one.  Way back in 1984, when poisonous toxic gas leaked from the Bhopal’s Union Carbide factory, the chairman of the corporation, Warren Anderson, who came to India four days later from the USA was arrested. He, however, managed to escape within a few hours allegedly using the state government’s plane.  All efforts by the Indian government for Anderson’s extradition from the USA to face trial and punishment under Indian law have not succeeded. 


Way back in 1995, a huge cache of arms and ammunition were airdropped in West Bengal’s Purulia district.  The main accused, Kim Davy, a Danish citizen with the real name of Niels Holck, was allowed to escape when the plane that they used to drop the arms landed at the Bombay Airport.  His escape was allegedly facilitated by a then member of parliament, Pappu Yadav (currently in custody facing trial as the prime accused in the murder of CPI(M)’s Purnea, Bihar MLA Ajit Sarkar). His associate Peter Bleach, who famously admitted from the Purulia jail that these arms were meant to help anti-CPI(M) led Left Front government forces to create violent anarchy and chaos  which could be used as a pretext to impose president’s rule in West Bengal, was granted the presidential pardon by Abdul Kalam on January 30, 2004 under the BJP-led NDA government.  He has since left India for his country. 


David Headley, the mastermind who surveyed the targets that were hit by the terrorists in Mumbai 26/11 attack was similarly allowed to escape facing trial under Indian law.  India had initially insisted that Headley had to face trial in Indian court as it was conclusively proven that he had played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.  An extradition treaty exists between India and USA yet the latter has refused to dispatch Headley to face trial in India, despite the Manmohan Singh government’s virtual insubordination to the USA. 


The most famous of such instances of the undermining of Indian sovereignty is that of Ottavio Quattrochi. Following the exposure of the Bofors scam in the 1986 $ 15 billion deal, Quattrochi left India in 1993 to avoid being arrested.  His London bank accounts were frozen but they were mysteriously unfrozen and later in 2008 India virtually signalled that the case against him has fizzled out. In 2011, a Delhi court allowed the CBI to close its criminal case against Quattrochi. 


This latest case of the Italian marines is, thus, not an isolated one. All these instances cannot be construed as mere lapses or rank inefficiency of the Indian State.  In most of these cases, connivance of various levels of authority can be noticed. But more importantly, such an undermining of India’s sovereignty and rule of law, particularly with regard to foreign nationals who violate Indian law with virtual impunity, is directly connected with the neo-liberal trajectory of economic reforms that India had begun pursuing since 1991. In the urge and eagerness to attract foreign investments, virtually succumbing to the dictates of international finance capital, India is increasingly being seen as a State that vacillates to firmly uphold our political sovereignty and the rule of law. Such an appeasement to foreign capital at the expense of our sovereignty undermines the vital essence and character of the Indian nation.  This only vindicates our position that surrender of economic sovereignty in the name of neo-liberal reforms can never stop there and will necessarily lead to the undermining of our political sovereignty. 


This cannot be allowed.  Notwithstanding all the previous instances where India virtually surrendered its sovereign authority, one can only hope that the prime minister will uphold, both in spirit and letter, the commitment he made to the Indian parliament on this particular issue of the Italian marines and display the expected firmness and conviction of a prime minister under oath to uphold the inviolability of the Indian constitution and sovereignty. 

(March 13, 2013)