New Delhi, March 22: The unprecedented crisis that gave the Centre jitters because of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian origin has now handed it a triumphant moment as the two marines returned to India this evening within the Supreme Court-set deadline.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh voiced the government’s satisfaction at the turn of events: “I am happy that the integrity and dignity of the Indian judicial process has been upheld.”
With the BJP linking the issue with Sonia’s Italian origin and itching to exploit it in the elections, the marines’ return brought relief to the Congress and gifted the party’s leaders a chance to crow about diplomatic success .
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid laid an exhaustive statement in Parliament, revealing that Italy had been told death penalty was not envisaged.
“Italy sought from India clarifications regarding the conditions applicable to the marines on their return and the provisions regarding the death penalty that could be applicable in this case. Notwithstanding the pending proceedings, the government has informed Italy that they will not be liable for arrest if they return within the time frame laid down by the Supreme Court, and shall once again be bound by the conditions contained in the order passed by the court on 18th January 2013; and that, according to well-settled Indian jurisprudence, this case would not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty, that is to say the rarest of rare cases. Therefore, there need not be any apprehension in this regard.”
These clarifications would be placed before the Supreme Court appropriately, he said.
Stating that India’s position had been conveyed to Italy, Khurshid said: “I have made it clear that the Republic of Italy is bound to honour the solemn commitment that it has made to the Supreme Court to ensure the return of the marines to India within the time period permitted by the Supreme Court.”
Expressing happiness later at Italy’s decision to send back the two men, he claimed credit for the turnaround: “Our diplomacy is working.”
The Supreme Court has affirmed that India has the jurisdiction to try the case “even as it has given another opportunity vide its judgment of 18 January to the petitioners to raise the issue of jurisdiction by adducing evidence before the special court to be set up for trial of this case”, the statement said.
“The Italian requests for diplomatic or expert level meetings to consider the issue of jurisdiction or referring the case to arbitration or any other judicial mechanism cannot be accepted,” Khurshid said.
When Italy had announced it would not send back the marines, the Prime Minister lost no time in asserting this was not acceptable and that there would be consequences. Sonia, whom the BJP had targeted because she is of Italian origin, stressed India cannot be taken for granted. But the most decisive blow to Italy came from the Supreme Court, which barred the country’s ambassador from leaving India.
Perhaps the reason Congress leaders shared credit with the Supreme Court today.