Don’t get this wrong. Enrica Lexie sounds like the latest juicy revelation in the saga of former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, but it is a merely the name of an Italian vessel embroiled in a legal and diplomatic tussle between Italy and India.
Catching little attention of the western media, the row is now assuming some serious European dimension, with Italian soldiers demonstrating in Rome against the detention and legal action against two of their colleagues.
At the heart of the stand off and ‘argy bargy’ is the death of two unarmed Indian fishermen who were apparently shot down by the two Italian soldiers who were on a anti piracy mission on board the ship.
The arguments and notoriously slow legal proceeding in India has taken a toll, with the two soldiers locked up in an Indian prison and the ship detained in the Indian port of Kochi since several weeks.
What has been most surprising is the appalling way both countries have handled the sensitive issue, each one not without its own hidden compulsions, and public stance each country was obliged to take.
For the new Italian Prime minister Mario Monti , there were more compelling matters to attend with the EU economic crisis and the economy of Italy itself on the verge of a crisis situation like that of Greece. However the way the Italians have come out with out convincing and straight forward explanation of what happened has not helped the matter and enabled the Indians to react helpfully to solve the issue.
Besides, The Italian authorities have also failed to grasp the political compulsions under which the Indian government had to act in this matter.
For a start, Kerala, which is the last place people still believe in communism has a party which lost the recent election with slim margin and has an interest to politicize every issue in order to win a crucial local election held in March. The ruling congress party with slim majority and allegations of corruption with the central government which they lead couldn’t afford to let the legal path take its own course.
That Kerala has a sizable Catholic population didn’t help, with Kerala Bishops facing accusation of taking up for a Catholic foreign country.
Although, never mentioned publicly, the most sensitive reason for the stiff Indian stance is nothing but the Italian origin of Sonia Gandhi, presiding over the Congress Party, currently ruling India and several states including Kerala as the major coalition partner.
In the current upheaval based on huge ‘perceived’ corruption with the central government, any effort to resolve the issue quickly would be perceived as an “order” from Sonia to favor Italy against the interests of India.
This gives little hope of the Italian authorities finding a quick resolution of the issue. However the fact that the by election is now over without serious damage to the image of the congress party and with a convincing win give everyone some elbow room. There is also the need to solve the issue before another by election now scheduled for May.
What can be counted upon is the good humor and awareness of political sensitivities of the enlightened judiciary of the ‘God’s own country’ who is adept at playing the judicial game to everyone’s satisfaction.