Yogi Adityanath aims 'Italian agents' jibe at Congress: References to Italy has shaped India's politics over the decades

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, in a speech at Mumbai several years ago, had made an interesting quip aimed at Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. He boasted about having sent Kanimozhi and A Raja to Tihar jail (in the 2G case) and said that the jailer there was complaining that the cook has a problem on his hands as the Tamil prisoners keep asking for masala dosas. After this, Swamy said, "I told the jailer to wait till an Italian also comes," subsequent to which there was loud applause.

This statement was reflective of how Italy, a country smaller in size than several Indian states, has acquired much importance in national politics. A recent example of this is the statement of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath alleging in Chhattisgarh that Italian agents are responsible for conversion and anti-national acts. "During the Congress’ three-year rule in Chhattisgarh, anti-national activities of religious conversion by agents of Italy were at their peak," Adityanath was quoted by ANI as saying.

However, references to Italy and Italian nationals have been a regular feature of political discourse in India for many years now. Here's an overview.

Ottavio Quattrochi

Quattrochi — an Italian businessman — was accused of having acted as a conduit for receiving bribes in the alleged Bofors scandal, which contributed majorly to the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi losing the subsequent parliamentary election. Sten Lindstorm, who investigated the scandal, had reportedly said that Rajiv had allowed a massive cover-up aimed at protecting Quattrochi, although he did not personally receive any payoffs.

File image of Ottavio Quattrocchi, who was accused of being a conduit in the Bofors case. AFP

The allegations pertain to a deal with Swedish manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 155 mm Howitzer guns for the army in 1986. A year after the deal was finalised, a Swedish radio channel had alleged that the company bribed senior Indian politicians and defence personnel with the aim of clinching the deal.

VP Singh, who led the campaign against the Congress for the 1989 Lok Sabha election, had made the Bofors scandal a key component of his rhetoric. An article by Shekhar Gupta in The Print recounts the manner in which he would accuse Rajiv Gandhi of corruption. Singh, the article notes, would ask people to imagine a situation in which a lion, a horse, a bull, a cat lived close by. On one morning, the owner of the circus found the carcasses of the horse and bull. "You think anyone had doubts on who had eaten them? The lion or the cat? If such big money has been eaten here, will some petty cat eat it?" the article quoted Singh as saying.

While the payoffs in the case were said to be to the tune of Rs 64 crore, no one was convicted in the case.

Sonia Gandhi's Italian origins

When Sonia Gandhi visited Karnataka last year ahead of Assembly elections in that state, the state BJP put out a caustic tweet saying, "Today, Ms Antonio Maino is here in Karnataka to save her last citadel from falling!" Such references to the Italian origins of Sonia Gandhi have been frequently made by the saffron party ever since she entered active politics.

On this issue, Sonia had emphatically said, "I am an Indian and shall remain so till my last breath."

Sonia was initially opposed to her husband joining politics, and was quoted by India Today as saying that this was because she feared that "they would have got him...they would have killed him...And I was right; that did happen"

File image of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. PTI

File image of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi. PTI

However, seven years after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Sonia joined politics in 1998. At that time, the Congress ruled only four states and had just 141 members in the Lok Sabha. After she took over, the fortunes of the grand old party changed, and it unexpectedly won the parliamentary election in 2004.

However, the prospect of Sonia becoming the prime minister had the BJP up in arms, with Sushma Swaraj saying that she would shave her head and wear white if she were to take up the post. The Congress leader said that she had decided to listen to her inner voice and desist from taking up the post of prime minister.

Italian marines

Two marines from Italy — Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — were accused of killing two Kerala fishermen in February 2012. The incident had spurred a political controversy as well as an international legal battle.

India has alleged that the two fishermen were killed without warning, while Italy has claimed that the marines had assessed that the fishermen's vessel was on a collision course with the oil tanker they were travelling on, as reported by The Indian Express. Italy has further claimed that the modus operandi of the fishermen was consistent with a pirate attack.

File image of the Italian marines. PTI

File image of the Italian marines. PTI

The main legal issues involving the case was to do with the jurisdiction of the case. The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled in August 2016 that India had no jurisdiction in the case, referring it to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Both Latorre and Girone are now in Italy, after the Supreme Court in 2016 allowed the former to return to his home country. There were four conditions imposed on him, which included reporting to a police station in Italy on first Wednesday of every month and the Italian authorities have to inform the Indian Embassy in Rome about it.

Narendra Modi, in a rally before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, had hinted that Sonia Gandhi had sought to shield the marines.


Updated Date: Nov 16, 2018 13:30 PM

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