India's prevarication on Sarabjit
Why is India's generosity not reciprocated?
There is nothing unusual in a government taking extra-special care of its nationals who get involved in an activity that constitutes a crime in an alien country. Governments go out of their way to get concessions and reprieve from other countries for their nationals – the concessions that are not, sometimes, available to their own countrymen in their own country. It is the rule, not an exception, in the conduct of international affairs between nations the world over. There are numerous instances in the past. Let us recall only the recent ones.
The latest is the case of the two Italian marines Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre charged with killing two Kerala fishermen. The Italian government raised a hell with the Indian government to save them, at all cost. When the two were initially arrested, the then Italian Prime Minister even threatened his Indian counterpart with dire consequences on the bilateral relations between the two countries.
India has treated the duo not as accused facing trial for murder but as VVIPs. First, they were allowed a one month's vacation for Christmas. Then, after two months they were allowed to go to Italy for full one month to exercise their right to franchise. No mortal of Indian origin charged with murder or any other heinous crime is allowed parole to celebrate Dussehra, Diwali, Holi, Navratras, Ramzan, Christmas or the like. No accused in jail have ever been allowed to visit their native places to exercise their democratic right to franchise even for a day. Even our elected representatives in Central and State legislatures facing similar charges in courts are not extended this privilege.
The Italian government first refused to send the two back for trial as promised. It was at the pain of action by the Supreme Court of India against the Italian Ambassador in India that the Italian government resiled and sent the two back to India, bot not before it hammered out further concessions for the duo – no death penalty and "good living conditions" being interpreted as a sort of house arrest under the care of the Italian ambassador. All this, in spite of the fact, that there is no extradition treaty between the two countries.
The VVIP treatment meted out – and assured – to the Italian accused violates the provisions in Article 14 of the Constitution of India which provides that the "State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth" (emphasis added). Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the same grounds.
Whether a person is guilty or innocent of the charge brought against should, or should not, face death penalty or whether the crime is "the rarest of the rare cases" is the exclusive jurisdiction of the judiciary and not of the executive, i.e. the Government of India. But our Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid stated that "this case would not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty, that is to say the rarest of rare cases." Our Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has, in the past, decried the judicial "overreach" of the courts. Does Khurshid's assurance not amount to executive "overreach"?
Another is the case of the Purulia arms dropping on the night of December 17, 1995, when an AN-26 aircraft dropped arms and ammunition in West Bengal's Purulia district. The consignment had hundreds of AK-47 rifles, pistols, anti-tank grenades, rocket launchers and thousands of rounds of ammunition. A criminal for case waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the Government of India and a conspiracy under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Arms Act, the Explosive Act, the Explosive Substances Act and the Aircraft Act, 1934. Yet, the arrested Latvian crew members were released from a prison in Kolkata in 2000 after requests from Russian authorities while another accused Bleach was given a presidential pardon in 2004 following requests by British government. Proceedings for the extradition of the main accused Kim Davy from Denmark are still under way.
But Manmohan government has proved itself an exception to the rule. It has failed to be vigilant enough in protecting the life of Sarabjit Singh languishing in Lahore Jail in Pakistan for more than 22 years after having been convicted by a Pakistani court. After the hanging of Pakistani terrorist Kasab for the 26/11 Mumbai case, the various terrorists groups, like LeT operating from Pakistani soil, had threatened "revenge". The UPA Government should have anticipated that the easiest and soft target could be Sarabjit Singh. It should have taken up the matter in right earnest to protect his life. Why the Manmohan government didn't and failed to make Pakistan guarantee Sarabjit's safety remains a mystery. It is a display of the Manmohan government's strength or weakness remains anybody's guess.