Sunday, March 17, 2013

Score One for the Indian Foreign Policy

Dear Leaders of our nation,

I wish to congratulate you on the superb diplomacy you have shown by letting two murderers of Innocent Indian Citizens slip away smoothly before your eyes.

On the 15th of February 2012, two Italian Marines aboard an Italian Oil tanker off the coast of Kerala opened unprovoked fire on a harmless fisherman's launch and killed two innocent citizens. The marines claim they had opened fire on what they thought was a "Pirate" Ship. Full credit to the Indian coast guard for chasing them and arresting the culprits in question.

After which, the marines were remanded in Judicial custody until early this month where they requested to return home back to Italy, to vote in the elections. Our magnanimous government, following the saying "Athithi Devo Bhava"(Treat guests / visitors like gods) to the full, allowed them to leave. And predictably, Italy is now refusing to hand them over for trial. Which country will send their citizens back to face murder charges? How much pull and influence does India carry for Italy to bow down under diplomatic pressure and send back the Marines?

This incident reminds me of a story, which, though not connected with the above incident, reflects the current situation very well:

Long ago, in the life and times of Emperor Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, the greatest Mughal ruler of ancient India, there once visited an Arabian horse trader with the sole intention of selling his fine Arabian steeds for the Emperors' Royal Stables. It was a known fact those days that Akbar fancied fine horses of various breeds and would spare no expense for procuring the finest specimens. So it was with no great difficulty that the trader was granted an audience with the emperor in the court in the presence of Birbal and other ministers of state.

Akbar was highly impressed with the superior breed and strength of the horses for they were magnificent indeed. In fact, so impressed was he that he immediately offered to buy the horses from the salesman at the asking price.

"These Horses are indeed fine specimens of their breed.", said Akbar. "How much are you selling them for?", he asked the trader.

"Your highness, the asking rate for each Horse would be 200 gold coins each. But I would not dream of taking money from you. Please accept two horses from my collection as a gift from Arabia. But if your highness so wishes, please loan me advance amount for any number of horses you require. I shall procure them for you and hand them over in my next visit", the trader replied.

"That is a noble gesture indeed.", Akbar replied, impressed by the traders gesture. "You will not go unrewarded. Take enough money for 12 such fine horses from my treasurer. Tell him that I have ordered it. Show him my seal.", he said.

The trader, happy at having secured a valuable deal walked off towards the treasury. Birbal, mute witness to the entire conversation now spoke for the first time. "Your Highness," he spoke with dignity. "Do you think it was wise to give the trader the entire amount in advance? We have not verified his credentials yet."

"Nonsense Birbal. You are too suspicious! Look at the fine specimens he has gifted to me. He will return with better specimens now that I have given him the entire amount. Also, this will improve relations between our Kingdom and Arabia." Akbar replied heartily. Birbal, sensing that his King was in no mood to discuss this matter further, kept silent.

A few months passed by. Akbar one day summoned Birbal in his private chambers for a task.

"Birbal", he said "I have a task for you. Only you can do it for me.", he said.

"I shall do my level best, Jahanpanah!", Birbal replied, all agog with curiosity.

" I need a list of all the fools in my kingdom. Scour the entire length and breadth, across all borders and all cities and towns. Take as much time and resources as you require.", Akbar asked.

Birbal replied in the affirmative and set out on his task. A few weeks later, he returned back with a huge sheet in hand.

"Jahanpanah! I have scoured the entire kingdom and have brought the list you desire.", he said proudly as he handed over the sheet to his emperor.

Akbar was pleased as he opened the list. But very soon, his smile turned into a frown as he saw the very first name on the list. It was his very own name "JALALUDDIN MOHAMMAD AKBAR", printed first. He could not believe his eyes. He looked again to make sure his eyes were not deceiving him. Sure enough, it was his name only.

"BIRBAL !!", he roared, his face twisting in rage. "Give me a good reason for this ! If I did not trust you for serving me loyally for so many years, I would have you beheaded this very instant!"

Birbal replied, unruffled and in a soothing tone,"Please compose yourself Jahanpanah, and listen to me carefully. Do you remember the Arabian Horse trader to whom you had so generously donated money for a dozen or so Arabian horses some months back?"

"Yes I do! What of it?", Akbar snapped back irritatedly.

Birbal continued in the same soft and soothing tone. "Jahanpanah! You will remember how I advised you against the deal keeping in mind that his credentials as a valid dealer were not yet established. Yet, your highness, you were too hasty. You were so impressed by the two specimens he gifted to you that you willingly gave him money for twelve such horses, but you only got two for the sum paid. He has not yet returned and as I suspect, he never will."

Akbar was stunned. "By Allah, Birbal! You are right!! Oh what a fool I was to give me all the money in advance. I should have given the money to him after he returned with the horses.", he said, morosely. "But then," he added suddenly with a twinkle in his eye, "What if he returns with the horses as promised?"

"In that case Jahanpanah", Birbal replied calmly, "I will replace your name with his!"

Akbar laughed heartily and rewarded Birbal for his wit.

As in the above story, it can be noted how India and Italy's democracies function.

Will Indian prisoners and undertrials languising in foreign jails be sent to India for similar requests???

Would India have granted Ajmal Kasab the same favour had he requested visiting Pakistan before his appointment with the gallows?

In 1994, an American teenager in Singapore named Michael Faye was caught red-handed spraying paint and painting graffiti on cars and walls. By Singapore's laws, he was sentenced to ten painful strokes of the cane. This soon became a national issue and raised a huge uproar amongst American Citizens who took it as a prestige issue, so much so that President Bill Clinton was asked to intervene. But despite US pressure and international criticism, Singapore did not budge. After much hue and cry, the sentence was reduced to seven strokes, much to the chagrin of the US(many considered this as an insult). Now, if a small country like Singapore could take on the mighty US, I wonder what stops us from protecting the rights of our citizens in our own country.

It's high time that India stops this 'doormat diplomacy' and starts asserting itself in South Asia, sending across a strong message to it's neighbors and detractors.    

It remains to be seen how Italy reacts to India's protests.

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