A Tough Italian Job for PM Modi
Italy is an unusual candidate as an Indian foreign policy problem. But like it or not, in current circumstances, the country ranks right up there as both a diplomatic challenge and an obstacle for New Delhi.
Maybe, it’s not quite in the category of a China or a Pakistan as some officials would overstretch, but its effect has been somewhat dramatic, especially on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s term so far. The recent AgustaWestland court order has only made matters more complicated as it comes at a time when quiet but hectic efforts are underway to repair the relationship.
The fact is Indo-Italian relations are at its ebb today. Italy is the only country standing between India and its membership of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a cherished strategic goal for which Modi has got US President Barack Obama’s support. It was felt that this would be a cakewalk because usual naysayer China is not a member of the MTCR but angered by the marines case, Italy put a block just like China has raised questions in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Not just that, due to the marines issue, Italy blocked the annual India-EU summit meet for two years, with Modi having to rework his calendar each time because the EU wouldn’t confirm dates. It was only last month that the first proper India-EU summit could be organised.
The scoresheet on the bilateral front is also abysmal. There have been no significant political visits from either side in three years. General political contact has been low, while trade has dipped since 2011.
Over the last few months, South Block mandarins have been working below the radar trying to fix the problem. As the marines issue moved into international arbitration, New Delhi too has consciously avoided taking hard positions on this politically volatile issue. Gradually, the diplomatic project of mainstreaming the relationship with Italy is what also resulted in Italian companies participating in some ‘Make in India’ events.
The Indian goal for now is to get the MTCR membership done before the Obama presidency ends. But for that to hap- pen, Italy must remove its objection. It’s at this delicate moment of manoeuvre that the chopper controversy has resurfaced, putting the relationship back under scrutiny just as the PM prepares to fly to the US in two months for the second time this year with memberships to MTCR and NSG his lead items on the priority list.