The eight India Navy veterans who were facing execution, later commuted to imprisonment of varying terms on espionage charges, have been let off. The fine gesture by the Emir of Qatar brings about the most empathetic possible ending to an excruciating drama involving the retired Navy men who were working for a security firm in Qatar.
Their release — seven men were whisked away to the Indian Embassy and then to the airport for a late-night flight to India while one remained behind to do some paperwork — is not just a sign of India’s soft power in the world. It is a tribute to the warm vibes Prime Minister Narendra Modi shares with several world leaders, especially several rulers in the Gulf, including the State of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.
The Prime Minister’s personal appeal to the Emir on the sidelines of the climate summit in Dubai in December 2023 must have swung the scales decisively considering the quick release of the eight condemned men. The PM’s good ties with countries in a region where millions of Indians work as expatriates go beyond pragmatism to reflect a true warmth.
The system in the Gulf states is such that certain opaqueness is a given. It is not up to the Indian state or anyone else involved in this to try and ferret out what was the crime that these men committed as to bring upon themselves capital punishment from Qatar’s Court of First Instance in August 2022.
The private Qatari firm Al Dahra, for which they worked, was involved in training naval personnel and handling other security matters and what happened to bring about such a harsh sentence on as many as eight personnel will remain a mystery.
It is time to rejoice over eight Indians escaping the noose in a foreign country. It is also time to compliment the diplomatic heavy lifting that the External Affairs Ministry did in the background, away from media glare and sustaining it diligently until the good news of the pardon and release came through as a genuine piece of good tidings for India.