5 things Sonia Gandhi could do to tackle Italian marines issue

There are options galore for the UPA government to respond to Italy’s outrage over the marines issue. However, the options are not as important as the fact on who is suggesting these options.

In this writer's opinion, the country’s most powerful politician Sonia Gandhi must take the initiative to prove what she would like Indians to believe - that she is more Indian than Italian. She must write a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and release it to the press simultaneously giving her piece of mind on the subject – which she hasn’t for over one year – and suggest ways and means of retrieving injured Indian pride.

There are five steps that Sonia can, and should, recommend to her government.

1. Declare the Italian Envoy Persona Non Grata

Italian Ambassador in India, Daniele Mancini, who led the Indian Supreme Court up the garden path by giving a false sworn affidavit, should be declared persona non grata (PNG); the sooner the better. India should be prepared for the Italians to hit back and hand out similar treatment to the Indian envoy in Rome. If the Italians accord PNG status to our top man in Rome, so much the better! Keep the Indian mission in Italy at a lower level.

2. Seek a Clarification from Italy in the Agusta Westland Chopper Case

 5 things Sonia Gandhi could do to tackle Italian marines issue

AFP

This is even more important because there is a growing public perception that there is some quid pro quo between the Italian marines issue and the Agusta Westland chopper deal that has gone awry. The insinuation is that India helped Rome over the marines issue in return for the Italians assuring that India’s first family doesn’t get singed by the Agusta corruption heat like it had in another European country (Sweden) over a quarter century ago. Curiously enough, a reference to “the family” has surfaced in Italian records in the Agusta chopper case and have been reported by the media.

According to these reports, a part of the Agusta deal kickbacks was meant for “the family”, though no one knows which family is being referred to in these communications. It is doubly important for Sonia to set the record straight in the public’s eye in double quick time. After all, Ceaser’s wife must be above suspicion (pardon me the gender confusion in the use of this well-known proverb!).

3. Explore Ways to Drag Italy to ICJ

Sonia should take the lead and instruct the Prime Minister to explore the possibilities of dragging Italy to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This is not an open-and-shut case for the government of India. Had it been so, New Delhi would have come up with such indications. The top law officers have to be asked to give their considered opinions on responding to this one-line question: What does India stand to lose by moving the ICJ and how? The rhetoric of the question is clear. Even if there is some attrition for India in taking the ICJ road, it is worth it if it comes to salvaging hurt national pride.

4. Play ‘Ignore and Humiliate’ Diplomacy with the Italians

The Americans have practised this kind of diplomacy with those countries which have ticked them off in some ways. Even Indians have been at the wrong end of the Americans’ stick . It is essentially about telling the diplomatic community of a foreign mission that they are not welcome in this country without giving them the PNG status. One can indulge in this diplomatic symbolism by ignoring Italian diplomats for official parties and functions. Indians should remain ready for a tit-for-tat from the Italians if they decide to go down this road. The Americans have been much more nasty to their bug-bears in Washington. They would give discreet instructions to the civic authorities to take up long, time-consuming and meaningless digging activities around the targeted embassy complex, pile up garbage in the vicinity and much worse. I won’t recommend stooping to such levels, though.

5. Put All Important Government Business Contracts on Hold

India must demonstrate to the world, particularly to a G20 nation like Italy, that we are no longer a country of snake charmers and open toilets. We have arrived on the world stage with a bang while the Italian economy is on the decline, registering negative GDP growth for years. Sonia should tell Manmohan Singh to give it back to Rome and the Indian government should get after the Italians with its tail up by putting on hold all important government business contracts. After all, the current bilateral trade between India and Italy is just $10 billion. This is peanuts as compared to India’s total trade in 2012 of $ 794 billion.

There is not much difference in the sizes of the economies of India and Italy. In fact, according to the CIA World Factbook, if the GDP is calculated on PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) terms, the Indian GDP is more than double that of Italy. Consider these figures, as given by the CIA World Factbook. Italy’s GDP on a PPP basis $ 1.834 trillion while India’s is $ 4.7 trillion. However, when GDP is calculated on the basis of the official exchange rate, India ($1.947 trillion) is slightly behind Italy ($ 1.98 trillion). All figures by CIA World Factbook are 2012 estimates.

The point, in short, here is that national pride is of much greater importance than business and trade. And even business interests won’t be hit adversely if India were to squeeze the Italians. The time has come for the Indians to tell the world that we are no push-overs. We have economic clout and we must start wielding the stick as unhesitatingly as the Chinese are doing. Especially with a weak player like Italy.

The Italian marines case presents Sonia with an opportunity and a challenge: she can put behind once-and-for-all the hushed debate over whether she is more Indian or more Italian. Those who convert adversity into opportunity are the real winners.

The writer is a Firstpost columnist who can be reached at bhootnath004@yahoo.com.

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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2013 08:44:29 IST