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Friday, March 15, 2013

BITTER HARVEST - The Italian marines’ issue could be damaging for the Gandhis

By Swapan Dasgupta

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often been mocked for his persistent refusal to speak on issues that warrant interventions at the highest level of government. It is a commentary on the potential consequences of the two Italian marines refusing to return to India for their trial on charges of killing two Indian fishermen on the high seas that he actually spoke on the subject in both Houses of Parliament last Wednesday. More to the point, he departed from his usual mealy-mouthed cautiousness and spoke sternly of “consequences for our relations with Italy” if the authorities in Rome persisted in violating a solemn assurance by the Government of Italy to the Supreme Court that the two accused would return to Kerala for their trial after the Christmas holidays.

The reason why the Prime Minister felt compelled to make an intervention, rather than leave it to External Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed, is obvious. For the Congress, Italy has always been a touchy subject—at least ever since the Bofors scandal broke in Sweden in 1988. Those with memories will recall that businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi fled India (or, rather, was allowed to flee) in haste on the night of July29-30, 1993, after the Swiss authorities had confirmed a Bofors trail to his bank accounts. And Quattrocchi was no ordinary Italian business representative of Snamprogetti; he was well-known in Delhi as a man who flaunted his social connection with Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi.

What the Congress legitimately fears is that any murky controversy involving either Italy or even an Italian citizen has the potential of being viewed in the bazars of India as—what former BJP minister Jaswant Singh slyly called—an “Italian Job”. The allusion was, of course, to the cult film of a wonderfully executed robbery of gold ingots. The 1989 election which saw Rajiv Gandhi’s steamroller majority crumble, for example, witnessed the explosion of evocative ditties alluding to the then Prime Minister’s special relationship with his sasural. Indeed, it became customary for Italy to be dubbed as the “nation-in-law” and for the mythical ideal of a Ram Rajya to be juxtaposed against the Congress’ Rome Rajya.

To be fair, there is very little to suggest that Sonia Gandhi consciously played up her Italian origins. Even Tavleen Singh’s best-selling Durbar which claims to provide a ringside view of Rajiv and Sonia from the time they were private citizens doesn’t dwell on Sonia flaunting her Italian-ness. Indeed, after the UPA Chairperson was badly singed for her association with Quattrocchi, she has taken exceptional care to leave her national origins far behind and project herself as an Indian bahu, a person who has imbibed the culture, traditions and ethos of her husband’s family. I have personally heard innumerable anecdotes from European journalists and diplomats indicating that she has invariably replied in English when addressed in Italian. Sonia can’t do much about her accent which continues to be decidedly Italian, but in everything else she has ensured that there is little overt traces of foreign-ness in her public persona.

It is this conscious attempt to Indianise herself that may explain why the ‘foreign origin’ issue has been carrying diminishing returns. In March 1999, the fact of her Italy-born status was certainly a factor behind her inability to muster the numbers to form a government after Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Government failed the floor test by a single vote. There is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that Mulayam Singh Yadav’s reluctance and even the CPI(M)’s wariness to endorse a Sonia-led Government was in a large measure due to a larger national wariness over a “foreigner” occupying the top political job.

On her part, Sonia imbibed the lessons of the 1999 failure. Therefore, when she had the opportunity in May 2004 to become Prime Minister—despite Sushma Swaraj’s awesome threat to discard her hair in mourning—she allowed her “inner voice” to pass on the responsibility to Manmohan Singh. Today, Sonia remains the foremost political authority in both the Congress and the UPA Government. Additionally, Sonia has a keen sense of political calculation that is inspired by her mother-in-law: her political distance from Rajiv is marked. Yet, it is precisely due to the fact that she was born an Italian citizen that she has been unable to translate her status as head of the Congress dynasty to a Constitutional position.

Acknowledging this does not in any way undermine her pre-eminence in the present political Establishment. Nor does it diminish her responsibility for the overall performance of the UPA Government. In the public imagination at least, both the successes and the failures of the UPA since 2004 are attributed to her. In the more cloistered world of the political class, this extends to the UPA’s dismal record in controlling corruption. Even the controversial business practices of her son-in-law Robert Vadra have been pinned on her indulgence.

However, being a step removed from the day-to-day grind of governance has enabled Sonia to establish a distinct political positioning. In fiscal terms, the UPA’s expansion of the welfare net may well be grossly irresponsible. However, her pro-active role in establishing the MNREGA and getting the proposed Food Security Act passed has established her so-called ‘pro-poor’ credentials—something that appeals to Congress activists who believe in hand-outs as the route to electoral success. Although India is no longer a shortage economy bolstered by an inefficient public sector, Sonia stands out in the emerging market economy as the Lady Bountiful, doing ‘good works’ for the poor and the vulnerable.

If 2014 was going to be a ‘normal’ election with no apparent dominant theme and no star personality, this blend of Mother India and Mother Teresa may well have fulfilled the Congress’ desire to remain in the reckoning as the default party of India. Unfortunately, the slowdown of the economy, the well-publicised cases of mega corruption and the perceived sense of drift may well make the polls into something more significantly dramatic—especially if Narendra Modi emerges as the challenger. At this juncture, when the Congress appears so fragile and heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi presents himself as so uninspiring, the last thing the Congress would want is for some additional controversy to shake the first family.

The issue of the Italian marines seen in isolation would appear like an embarrassment. However, read with the investigations in Italy into the bribes given for the purchase of AgustaWestland helicopters and the real estate greed of Vadra, there is every danger that the Gandhi family could suffer huge collateral damage. The mood in Italy is dead against any return of the absconding marines to India. But Indian national pride could equally come to the fore if New Delhi attempts a workable compromise solution. Already there are dark hints of a quid pro quo that would involve the Italian authorities going very slow on the inquiries into the bribes allegedly paid by AgustaWestland.

Most conspiracy theories can ever be substantiated by hard evidence. However, electoral trials are based almost exclusively on perceptions. People, as Modi rightly pointed out in a different context last week, tend to forgive the lapses of a regime that is otherwise seen to provide good governance. The Congress cannot at this juncture hope for such generosity. On the contrary, the UPA may well be a victim to the perverse habit of believing the worst of anyone who is down. Sonia has so far escaped this onrush of spite. But unless the Government can resolve the present Italian muddle, the Congress President could well be its unintended victim. 


Anonymous said...

Well written BALANCED one.

" ‘foreign origin’ issue has been carrying diminishing returns". Indeed yes.

All said & done as Sir.Winston Churchill rightly pointed out most Indians in politics are "power hungry rascals". No wonder Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi also detected the same unpleasant trait calling for disbanding of the congress party itself. The copyrights over "inner voice" also belong to the same MK.Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi & her children have their speech written by Mani Shankar Aiyar it was reported once. When I think of the rest like , Mulayam Singh Yadavs, Jayapradas, Laloos , the crotchety leftists & Farookh Abdullahs my heart prefers Sonia Gandhi.

Those flotsam & jetsam within congress including Kamal Nath also LOVE only themselves & NOT Sonia Gandhi. They find clinging to Sonia's pallav is the glitches free way of staying in power & lording over the masses.

In many ways ITALY is very much like India. Watch the movie Bicycle Thief & you would agree with me. There is a soothsayer also.

Made in ITALY washing machines , water heaters , cooking ranges , hats , woollens are FAR FAR superior to made in India ones. Family ties are very strong among Italians I have heard from an Indian living there. They are also emotional like us. Love children & babies.

Several years ago one of my relatives always insisted ITALIAN pastries sold in a particular shop in INDIA were the best.

Sonia Gandhi can win lasting respect by taking following important decisions.

DECLARE as requested by Smt.Jayalalithaa Sri.RAM SETHU a Spiritual Heritage & rescind this sethusamudram project altogether. FOREVER SCRAPPED.

Unlike CBI cases that are resurrected periodically to tame Mayawathis & Mulayam Singh Yadavs.

THROW AWAY t.r.balus , dmk, dk & leftists PERMANENTLY DISGRACED.

These two VITAL decisions I pray Sonia Gandhi is sensible enough to take.

Anonymous said...


BAN conversions.

Let Hindu Temples be managed by Hindu Aacharyas ( not charlatans like SSSSRS of art of living who wanted to issue fatwas for all Hindus very recently thus usurping unbridled power).

Excommunicate barkha dutts , rajdeep sardesais etc etc.

Anonymous said...

In this particular case ITALY has paid adequate compensation to the families of the deceased. A truly fat sum of money they took. And have been instigated by local politicians to agitate.

Rest of the Hindus fulminating at Sonia Gandhi have also joined the fray screaming in high decibels about pride of India blah blah.

The same India behaved in a different way earlier. When a keralite muslim working in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to death NDTV team & one minister from Kerala travelled to Saudi Arabia , offered blood money & brought back that KERALITE culprit unpunished.

Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan's bumptious tantrums abroad defended by Indian ministers & his fan club also prove India has not much gravitas to flaunt.

Btw , Hollywood's ITALIAN JOB is going to be plagiarized by bollywood & kollywood. Recently ZEE cine awards ceremony took place in ITALY. It was such a COLOSSAL PAIN I could not endure AT ALL.

ITALY patiently endured the asininely idiotic presentation of Priyanka Chopras etc etc for hours.

ITALY WINS my vote for the above reasons alone. Thus ITALIAN MARINES ALSO WIN by extending of the same reasoning.

Anonymous said...

All said & done I want only Narendra Modi & Jayalalithaa to WIN & GOVERN entire India.

I offered the above suggestions so that while losing at least Sonia Gandhi would take the above mentioned decisions to lose with grace.

After assuming power conversions should be banned totally in India. BJP failed to do so when it reigned under Vajpayee.

Those creeds that convert are the most egotistical Ramana Bhagavan says. To build lasting solidarity among us citizens of India Sri.Ram & Lord Krishna ALONE would be more than adequate.

Evangelicals have nothing fresh or new to add . Our VEDAS have EVERYTHING. From which they have been stealing shamelessly. It is time they pay a heavy price for such mendacity.

Anonymous said...

Subramaniam Swamy is an asset.He boldly exposed EVM tampering in Tamil Nadu.
Agreed in certain issues there might be differences of opinions. So what??

One does not throw the baby along with bath water.

Certain crafty Indians have managed to ride rough shod over gullible & meek HINDUS of India sporting degrees from Harvard & London School of Economics.Prannoy Roy is from London School of Economics. Romila Thapars & Arundathi Roys all feted abroad as they are full of anti VEDIC diatribe.

Hence we should feel grateful we have Subramaniam Swamy , Cho Ramaswamy & Jayalalithaa & Swami Dayananda of Arsha Vidya who are equally articulate in English & much more KNOWLEDGEABLE.

In a show on Vijay Tv there were these Indian allopaths & surgeons typical supercilious we- know- everything upstarts armed with some jargon & English language were putting down Hindu women on the other side. Thank God for some Hindu Gentleman sitting on their side equally articulate in English & medicine ( Herbal , Siddha , Ayurvedic including Latin names etc etc ) who with remarkable & enviable panache rebutted the allopaths word for word.

I have understood these allopaths. Their contention is ” we alone have the right to dupe , cause deaths & make dare others question us …we have spent so much on capitation fees & bribes to gain entry into medical colleges & go abroad…how else do we recover all the money spent unless we operate & remove all organs and keep manufacturing diseases & dependency on us “

Jitendra Desai said...

"The Family" appears doomed for the next elections atleast.Things have not gone as per plans.May be ,even Mrs Sonia Gandhi has lost her sense of judgement.Refer today's media report, where she has again harped on old old secularism while laying some foundation stone in Malda -WB.Now every one knows that communal -secular debate is passe.So is "Garibi hatao" by a poltical party.People have learnt that Garibi will have to be removed by working hard in an enabling environment.Yet, the lady is fixated on poverty.