Mystery over ASG’s pro-Italy stance in SC unresolved

published on April 22, 2012

The Centre has distanced itself from the pro-Italy submission made by Additional Solicitor General Harin P Raval in the Supreme Court on Friday in the case pertaining to the killing of two Indian fishermen in gunfire from Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie on February 15 off Kerala coast but this has not been able to remove the suspicions in the minds of Keralites.

Similarly, the people of Kerala, especially the fishermen community, does not view Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s demand to the Centre to remove Raval from the responsibility of the case as anything more than an act he was forced to undertake in the face of widespread protests from the Kerala society.

The Centre has explained that Raval’s pro-Italy submission in the court was an expression of his own viewpoint and had nothing to do with the Central stand on the case but the general feeling in Kerala is that it would be foolish to believe that a lawyer in the ASG’s position would air personal opinions that went against Government interests in the apex court in such a case.

“The Centre’s explanation is eyewash. It does not want controversies, that is all,” said a top Congress leader working for the fishermen’s cause. “Also, the Chief Minister has just fulfilled a formality. Indications of how the Centre actually intends to go about this case would be available when it comes up in the apex court again on April 30,” he said.

Keralites suspect that the submission made by Raval in the court – that Kerala had no locus standi in the case as the murders had been committed in international waters – was the result of certain backroom operations carried out by a lobby in the Centre as well as in Kerala that wanted to see the case being botched.

As a possible proof of this, skeptics point at the mysterious silence adopted by MT George, Kerala’s standing counsel in the Supreme Court, when Raval made the submission that went against the State’s interests and emotions. Also, George had appeared in the court by replacing the lawyer who was assigned the job earlier.

“We should remember the pro-Italy statement made by Cardinal Mar George Alencherry in the very beginning of the case, the reported meeting between him and Kerala Law Minister KM Mani, a Catholic, before the case came up in the apex court,” said a Latin Catholic Church functionary. Mani had also met Sonia Gandhi a day before the case came up in the apex court.

Mar Alencherry had told a Rome-based news agency in February itself that Kerala should not take action in haste in the fishermen-killing case, that he had taken up the matter with Union Minister KV Thomas, another Catholic, and that he was ready to mediate. However, the Cardinal denied making any such statement but, strangely, the agency had not offered any apology.

Even retired top officials of the Kerala Police suspect that there had been attempts to derail the case from the very beginning. They think that the delay in the arrest of the two Italian Marines who had allegedly shot to death the two fishermen and in confiscating the weapons from aboard the Italian ship could have been part of these attempts.

The Kerala Police had arrested Italian Marines Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone on February 19, four days after the killings and there was a ten-day delay in confiscating the weapons used in the crime from the ship. It is said that these delays had given enough time for the Italians to destroy or hide crucial evidences.

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