November 3, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether the Qatar death sentence for eight Indians is a failure of Indian diplomacy. We also look at the accolade bestowed by UNESCO on Kozhikode in Kerala, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is the Qatar death sentence for eight Indians a failure of Indian diplomacy?
On Thursday, October 26, a Qatari court sentenced eight former Indian navy personnel to death on charges of espionage and spying. The sentencing came as a shock to many in the country and even allegedly to an underprepared external affairs ministry. The trial of these eight former seamen was held in extreme secrecy with negligible information about their expedited trial being released.
Qatar has long been a bastion of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. Despite ideological differences, the trade and strategic ties between our two countries had been flourishing with India even providing humanitarian aid to the once boycotted nation. In spite of such relations, a mass death sentence for India’s ex-defence personnel in a foreign land does not read well for a nation projecting itself as the Vishwaguru.
In just three hearings spanning over seven months, the Qatari Court of First Instance sentenced eight former Indian Navy officers to death on October 26. The condemned include Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commodore Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Ragesh. Among them, Commodore Tiwari had only recently been felicitated with the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Award by the former President His Excellency Ram Nath Kovind in January 2019 for “enhancing India’s image abroad”.
While the seamen’s trial had been shrouded in secrecy with Qatari officials not making the charges against them public, it has been alleged that the former navy officers were working in their private capacity with a now-defunct company, Dahara Global. They were overseeing the induction of small Italian stealth missiles and training the Qatari Emiri Forces in setting up defence capacities – a vital part of the Indo-Qatar bilateral defence cooperation and foreign policy.
Arrested in August last year on undeclared charges of espionage, the men have been accused of sharing secret information pertaining to a stealth submarine programme they worked on with a third country (Israel).
On the floor of the parliament in December last year, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said that the matter was “extremely sensitive” and has now expressed “concern” and said that he is “awaiting the detailed judgment”. India is now looking at a range of possible legal and diplomatic options to provide relief to the eight condemned men with the Ministry assuring consular and legal support.
Since long, successive Indian governments have tried to build friendly ties with the gas-rich nation of Qatar. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Qatar in 2008, which was reciprocated by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s visit to India in 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Gulf state in 2016 and Doha has hosted EAM Jaishankar multiple times. These visits have laid the ground for a strong economic relationship. Qatar is India’s most important natural gas supplier and several Indian companies operate in Qatar. Apart from strategic and defence cooperation agreements, India sources 40% of its LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) needs from Qatar. India is also Qatar’s third biggest source of imports, particularly for raw materials for construction and fresh food items.
However, India-Qatar ties have not been without rough patches. Qatar is a bastion of Islamic conservatism and the Qatar-financed Al Jazeera has been aggressive towards India since the abrogation of Article 370. Qatar had also been at the forefront in its condemnation when BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma made derisive comments regarding Prophet Mohammed.
One of the wealthiest countries today, Qatar’s $450 billion sovereign wealth fund has been substantial in India’s new economy. Thus, India cannot deal with Qatar with the aggressive muscularity that it showed recently with Canada or the disdain with which it generally treats Pakistan. As challenges are poised to India’s ties with Qatar among these complications, fears arise that the cases of these eight seamen might also end up in the same way as that of the former Naval Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav.
VIEW: Diplomatic failure
Such a mass death sentence for Indian nationals, and that too former defence personnel, in a foreign land, has been unprecedented in India’s diplomatic history. While in the past Indians have been given the death penalty and even executed abroad, it has been civilians on charges of murder or narcotics and not blemishes like espionage. The word “shock” is seldom used in diplomatic statements, as has been done by EAM Jaishankar this time, and it indicates that the government has been taken unaware and unprepared.
When Qatar was isolated and feeling the heat of a Saudi-led blockade during 2017-2021, India continued its economic engagement with Doha. When fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members imposed a blockade on Qatar, India helped airlift food products and other supplies to it. While these actions should have automatically qualified as goodwill, India’s failure to capitalise on these gestures in this case proves previous Indian humanitarian efforts were misplaced.
India-Qatar annual bilateral trade amounts to about 15 billion dollars. In addition, India offers training slots in its defence institutions to a number of partner countries, including Qatar, and regularly participates in the biennial Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX). Despite such relations, the Indian accused had been kept in inhuman solitary confinement and pleas for leniency and transparency from even the Joint Secretary of the PMO have fallen on deaf ears.
India has also maintained that it cannot intervene in the judicial processes of another country. However, from a realpolitik perspective, this is false. It is even further demonstrated by the fact that the owner of the company (Dahara Global), an ex-serviceman of the Royal Oman Air Force, had also been arrested but later released in November 2022 after Oman’s efforts.
While at present there are perceived differences between Qatar and India over the Palestine conflict, Qatar has also been historically notorious for granting refuge to personalities such as MF Hussein and Zakir Naik despite India’s protests. Such actions call into question India’s continued diplomatic goodwill towards the Middle Eastern nation and its failure to capitalise on its past actions to save its citizens.
COUNTERVIEW: Must consider geopolitical realities
The government has been pulling diplomatic levers at multiple levels to secure the release of the eight Indian citizens. But its approach also needs to respect the laws of a country where more than 8,00,000 Indians — the largest expatriate community in Qatar — live and work. Such a situation requires a measured response, which is exactly what India has given.
The timing of the judgement with respect to ongoing events also does not help. In the present geopolitical climate, charges of spying for Israel have political implications for many countries in the Arab world. Qatar has also risen in the world order since October 7 as it has been a crucial broker between Hamas and the West and enjoys the US’ backing.
Despite these challenges, India’s diplomats’ efforts have borne fruits. Following their arrest last year, the former Navy personnel got some relief from Qatari authorities when they were moved out of solitary confinement and put in a double-bed occupancy in a jail ward along with their colleagues. Since their death sentence, an appeal in a higher court is being prepared for them and a mercy petition to the Emir is also in the works. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is known for his clemency on Eid and with the right geopolitical maneuvering, might just pardon the Indian accused.
India and Qatar also have a transfer of prisoners agreement since 2015 and should India succeed in converting the death penalty to a life sentence, it might be able to bring its sailors back home. Countries, even “friendly” ones, are unlikely to share details of the manner in which they pursue cases related to national security and given that these retired officers were working on a “commercial, for-profit” basis for a private company, the Indian diplomats have been doing the best possible in the situation.
- Indians sentenced to death in Qatar: Get them from Doha to Delhi – The Indian Express
- Mystery trial: On the case of the former Indian Navy personnel in Qatar – The Hindu
- India’s Challenge In Qatar With 8 Ex-Navy Officers On Death Row – NDTV
- Qatar case presents huge diplomatic test – Deccan Herald
- Bring Back Indian Navy Veterans on Death Row in Qatar Now – The Wire
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The death sentence for eight Indians in Qatar is a failure of Indian diplomacy.
b) The death sentence for eight Indians in Qatar is not a failure of Indian diplomacy.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Improving urban transport (Jammu and Kashmir) – Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha thanked the Centre for its support in improving the state’s urban transport situation. He also said the dream of having a metro in Srinagar could become a reality. With the help of Srinagar Smart City Limited, the city’s transportation system is being transformed. A dedicated app for online ticket payments has been developed for the newly launched E-buses.
Why it matters: Under the Srinagar Electric Bus Project (SEBP) and the Srinagar Smart City Limited, Sinha flagged off electric buses at the Nishat Bus Terminal. These will ply on 15 intra-city and 2 inter-city routes from 8 am to 8 pm. There are also plans for a new bus depot at Pantha Chowk, and charging sub-stations have been developed to ensure the e-buses operate smoothly.
City of Literature (Kerala) – Kozhikode has been officially designated as a City of Literature by UNESCO. It’s the first city in the country to receive this title. The UN organisation formally conveyed the title to the Kozhikode Corporation. It’s now on a list of 55 newly selected creative cities. The city has a history of hosting several literary gatherings, including the Kerala Literature Festival.
Why it matters: The newly designated cities will work with network members to work on issues like increasing inequality and climate change. These cities were invited to participate in the 2024 UCCN Annual Conference in Portugal with the theme of bringing youngsters to the table in the next decade. Another Indian city, Gwalior, was placed in the Creative Cities Network in the field of music.
Requesting a reduction in land fees (West Bengal) – The Confederation of Indian Small Tea Growers’ Associations asked the state government and the land reform department to reduce the rates for regularising the growers’ land. It’s the rate to regularise the status of the land of plantations recorded and registered in land records. In April, a one-time rate of ₹25,000 per hectare and ₹50,000 for those with plantations on vested land were fixed.
Why it matters: The state has about 50,000 small tea growers that contribute more than half of the state’s tea production. Land regularisation is important for the growers so that they can get benefits from the Tea Board of India, the state government, and the Centre. While the sector has grown, only 7,000 growers have proper land records.
Maratha quota ripples (Maharashtra) – A statewide stir calling for quotas for Marathas has garnered an overwhelming response across 11 districts. Several groups across the state are protesting the Eknath Shinde government’s delay in providing quotas. Community members observed a one-day fast while police announced prohibitory orders in Akola after protestors said they would attack the residences of MPs and MLAs.
Why it matters: The Eknath Shinde government is under the gun on the issue of providing quotas to the Marathas. They constitute nearly 33% of the state’s population and have been demanding reservations in education and government jobs. In 2021, the Supreme Court struck down Maharashtra’s Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act, 2018, which violated the 50% quota limit.
Road accident deaths (Assam) – A report from the Research Wing of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways stated that Assam had the highest number of road accidents in 2022, with 7,023 and 2,994 fatalities. It was the highest among the northeastern states. The number of road accidents showed a slight decline from 2021 when it was 7,411. Among road accident fatalities, Assam ranked 18th among all states.
Why it matters: The total number of road accidents in the northeast in 2022 was 9,412. That’s a decrease from 9,754 in 2021. Assam joined Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland in states that saw a decline in the number of accidents in 2022. Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Sikkim, and Tripura all saw an increase in road accidents in 2022 compared to 2021.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
110 – The government has given the green light to 110 brand owners, retailers and resellers for imports of computers and tablets. Among the companies cleared are Dell, HP, Apple, and Amazon.