Fury in Kerala over Centre’s pro-Italy stand

published on April 20, 2012

The entire Kerala society on Friday protested against the Centre’s stand in the Supreme Court on the case pertaining to the murder of two Indian fishermen in gunfire from aboard Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie on February 15 that the State had no authority to detain the ship, to deal with the case or to probe it as the incident had occurred in international waters.

While the Opposition alleged and the general public felt that Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s Italian connections could have been responsible for the Centre’s volte-face on the case, the Congress-led UDF Government in the State failed to give a satisfactory explanation for the “failure” of the Kerala standing counsel to oppose the Centre’s statement.

The Kerala Government had initiated the case against two Italian Marines who had allegedly shot to death the two fishermen from aboard Enrica Lexie off the Kerala coast and detained the ship under the guidance and agreement of the Central Government. For the same reason, the Centre’s somersault on Friday evoked serious suspicions across Kerala.

Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan alleged that the Centre had betrayed the nation and its interests by “turning hostile” for the sake of Italy and that Friday’s Central stand was part of a secret Central move to save the Italian murders. His Deputy in the State Assembly, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, made a direct charge against Sonia saying that she was behind the volte-face.

Derrick Valentine, son of Valentine (48), one of the two fishermen murdered by the Italian Marines, termed the Additional Solicitor General’s statement as “cruel”. “The Centre should not have done this after standing with us all this while. It is entirely possible that there could have been a conspiracy (between Italian authorities and the Centre),” he said.

Fishermen’s leaders said that indications to what the Centre did on Friday were there from the very beginning of the Enrica Lexie case. “From the very beginning, the Centre had adopted a policy of running with the prey while hunting with the hunter,” said Charles George, leader of the fishermen’s forum Kerala Matsya Thozhilali Aikya Vedi.

In Delhi, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said that the State police had initiated the case with the permission of the Centre and it was then agreed that the incident had occurred in Indian waters. However, his Home Minister Thiruvanchoor Radhakrishnan refused to commit that the Kerala Government would convey its protests to the Centre.

That the Centre could take such a stand at one point of time was obvious in the initial days of the case itself, said a senior lawyer of the Kerala High Court which was hearing several petitions related to the killing of the fishermen. For instance, when the petition seeking end of detention of the ship at Kochi port came up for hearing, the Centre had taken a pro-Italian stand, he said.

Protests came up from the Chandy Cabinet itself with Labour Minister Shibu Baby John, having close connections with the fishermen community, terming the Centre’s volte-face as “a decision that sacrificed” the nation’s interests. “This cannot be tolerated. One cannot reject the Opposition’s allegations against Sonia Gandhi,” he said.

Legal experts pointed out that the Centre’s stand could make uncertain the future of the entire case built up by Kerala. “What is most surprising is the fact that the Centre had taken this stand and the Kerala counsel had given it his assent with silence when the Kerala High Court is yet to settle an Italian petition seeking cancellation of the FIR against the two Marines,” said a lawyer.

Lawyers also expressed surprise at the timing of the Centre’s volte-face. The Centre had taken the new stand at the Supreme Court just when the Italian Government seeking an out-of-the-court settlement on the compensation to be paid to the relatives of the two victims and when the families of the two Marines were in the country to meet them in the prison.

That the Italians were using all means available to them to protect the two Marines and the ship was evident in February itself when newly -installed Kerala Cardinal Mar George Alencherry told a Rome-based news agency that Kerala should not act hastily in the case and that he himself was ready to negotiate. However, he later denied having said anything like this to the agency.

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