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Mar 13, 2013 at 07:33pm IST

Marines row: Indian PM breathes fire, Italy defends its soldiers

New Delhi: The gloves are off. The two runaway marines have pitted India against Italy and the opposition against the government. The Prime Minister himself chose to speak on behalf of his government. He declared Italy had violated every rule of diplomatic discourse. The Kerala Chief Minister, Oommen Chandy, also met the Prime Minister and made the right noises for his constituency.

Italy has defended its action. For now at least, it has ruled out the marines' return. Italy's ambassador, the man under fire for facilitating the marines' one-way trip to Italy, explained why they chose to submit to an international court. "The issue of affidavit is not separate from the issue of several proposals made to the Indian government. They are part of the same process," Daniele Mancini said.

But Italy's defence has few takers. Even Harish Salve, who fought the case on Italy's behalf in Supreme Court, trashed the country's stand. "I consider this action of the Republic of Italy as a breach of faith. The Indian judicial system has been betrayed," he said in a statement.

Sources now confirm that India is likely to expel the Italian ambassador if the marines are not sent back. The government may wait till March 22, when the Supreme Court's sanctioned leave period ends. That gives time to attempt to reconcile the two sharply divergent positions.

Is there no scope for compromise?

- Italy has justified keeping the marines back, while India says Italy is obliged to send them back.

- Italy says India ignored its requests to find a mutually acceptable solution. India says that the requests are "under examination".

- Italy says it's prepared to work with India as a mature democracy. India has demanded unconditional return of the marines.

- While Italy says it is committed to strong ties, the PM has warned of consequences.

But as India takes on Italy, differences have cropped up within the government as well. The Home Ministry wants the MEA to ensure the ambassador is not able to invoke his immunity. But the MEA is not in favour of disregarding the Vienna Convention because of implications in future for Indian diplomats abroad.

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