Decoding The Indo-Italian Diplomacy Corridor

What to make of the ongoing diplomacy battle between India and Italy over the two Italian marines accused of killing Indian sailors

Udit Mehta March 27, 2013

Italian sailors Latorre and Girone walk inside a police commissioner's office in KochiThere is more to India and Italy than Madam (Sonia Gandhi of course) and Marines, more than even pizzas, pastas, Prada or the Parmesan producing Punjabi’s in Parma. Yet as Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone aboard the Italian flagged MV Enrica Lexie opened indiscriminate fire on St. Antony, the trawler off India’s southern coast, gunshots were heard loudly in New Delhi and Rome. The seeds for a diplomatic debate with the leanings of a debacle were sown.

Diplomacy as a sport can be debauched and delightful at the same time. It’s universal in its reach, neutral parties can extract immense pleasure and sometimes extort a good measure and for the engaged officers. There is plenty of wine and dine on public funding. The specifics of the shooting at sea incident though marked the imminent diplomatic dialogue as a battle for a new world order – a north versus south that could confuse the sense of direction of compasses across the universe.

While the events that lead to the flight, furore and finally fumigation of what was temporarily a successful subterfuge have been over-analysed by media and masses alike, a critical calculation of the consequences is the real conundrum.

Foremost is the question and the rather common conjecture of India winning the diplomatic battle.

The battle-lines had been firmly drawn in October 2012 following Ferrari’s decision to carry the Italian navy’s flag on its Formula 1 cars during the Indian Grand Prix to express solidarity with the sailors – a move that allegedly followed intense lobbying by Italian politicians and drew particular praise from foreign minister Giulio Terzi. The amateurish advert gave plenty of foresight into the impudence the Italian’s would attempt.

Months later in March 2013, the very fact that Italy let itself make the gross mistake of holding back the marine’s marked India as the underdog in the battle to begin with. Typical of an old world order, where the northern states assumed supremacy took precedence over the etiquette of an egalitarian existence.

Yet the failure of the Italian authorities in underestimating the Indian response is accentuated by a quick analysis of the man at the helm of Italy’s affairs. The credentials of Prime-Minister Mario Monti have remained unquestionable in the current times of economic eeriness Italy faces, largely due to his status as an established career economist. A former European Commissioner, prior to entering politics Monti served as a university professor of economics. In the environment of austerity that Italy faces much like the rest of the European Union with increasing taxation and decreasing wages, a cursory look at the impact of soured relations with the emergent economic powerhouse that India is, should have been enough reason to put Latorre and Girone back on a plane.

However, in a world where the equilibrium between economy and ego is fast leaning towards the former and where political prejudice favours profit over pride, Monti and his entourage made a faux pas that could inadvertently re-write the rules of international geo-politics.

India stands to benefit much from what was majorly Italy’s gaffe. Indian diplomats stood their ground and backed themselves just like anyone with even an outsider understanding of where the world’s economy is progressing would have. For India, it was not a tactical win in traditional terms but more of a practical acceptance of victory over an ineffective opponent.

Rendering the opponent ineffective though has been a process that has progressed over decades – fuelled by people and not politics.

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