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How have India-Italy relations strengthened under PM Modi, Giorgia Meloni? Explained

PM Modi is currently in Italy, in his first foreign visit since his re-election, to attend the highly-anticipated G7 Summit. Bilateral relations between India and Italy have witnessed an upswing under the leadership of PM Modi and his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Rome Updated on: June 14, 2024 19:54 IST
PM Narendra Modi with his Italian counterpart Giorgia
Image Source : PTI PM Narendra Modi with his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni.

G7 Summit 2024: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has finally arrived in Italy to attend the highly-anticipated G7 Summit 2024 and hold bilateral meetings with prominent world leaders. PM Modi will also be participating in a summit session entitled Artificial Intelligence, Energy, Africa-Mediterranean to be hosted by Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni and joined by Pope Francis.

While PM Modi's potential meetings with Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would be closely watched, his meeting with his Italian counterpart Meloni, who recently secured a crucial victory in the European Parliamentary elections, is also significant. The bilateral relations between India and Italy have strengthened under the Modi-Meloni duo since 2022.

Earlier in his departure statement, Modi said he was "glad" that his first foreign visit in his third consecutive term as Prime Minister was to Italy for the G7 Summit. “I warmly recall my visit to Italy for the G20 Summit in 2021. Prime Minister Meloni's two visits to India last year were instrumental in infusing momentum and depth in our bilateral agenda. We remain committed to consolidate the India-Italy strategic partnership, and bolster cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and the Mediterranean regions,” his statement reads.

India-Italy relations: A brief history

India and Italy are ancient civilisations that have known, interacted and traded with each other for over 2,000 years. The Venetian merchant Marco Polo, during his travels to the east, also travelled to India in the 13th century and wrote about his experiences. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore also visited Italy in May-June 1926 and Mahatma Gandhi visited Rome in 1931.

Indian troops, serving with the British Indian Army, were deployed in Italy during World War II, fighting against the Germans and Mussolini’s forces. Political relations between India and Italy were established in 1947 after independence, including a regular exchange of visits at political and official visits. 

Setbacks in bilateral ties

A strain emerged in the bilateral ties when India signed a deal to buy several AgustaWestland helicopters built by Italian defence manufacturing company Finemeccanica at a cost of Rs 3,600 crore. India later scrapped the contract with the Italian company over an alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore by it for securing the deal.

The bilateral relations between India and Italy suffered a major setback when two Italian marines were accused of gunning down two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in 2012. The marines, Salvator Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, opened fire on a boat carrying the fishermen while guarding an Italian oil tanker. The Indian government demanded compensation from the Italian government for the kin of the victims.

The two marines were arrested and charged with murder. They were kept at the Italian embassy when the trial was ongoing, and PM Modi raised the matter in his campaign ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Italy claimed that the marines had been hired to protect the tanker from pirates and they were only doing their job. The marines were later allowed to return to Italy and the matter was raised to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in the Hague. The case was finally closed when the PCA ordered Italy to pay compensation to India “for loss of life” and Italy paid the agreed amount of Rs 100 million.

Mending of relations

The India-Italy relations began to normalise after the intervention of former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who led an official delegation for the canonisation ceremony of Mother Teresa at the Vatican from September 2-5, 2016. She met her Italian counterpart Paolo Gentiloni, and the two sides decided to celebrate the 70th year of diplomatic ties. 

Her successor S Jaishankar visited Rome in December 2019 to attend the MED Conference and met Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on the margins of the Conference. He also attended the MED 2020 on 04 Dec 2020 in virtual format. Jaishankar also participated in the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting in Matera in June, 2021. PM Modi also co-chaired a virtual summit between India and Italy with Conte in 2021.

The 'Melodi era'

Bilateral relations between India and Italy have witnessed an upswing under the leadership of PM Modi and his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni since the latter's first India visit in March 2023 for the Raisina Dialogue. The bilateral relationship between the two countries was elevated to a strategic partnership during that visit and bilateral trade boomed to over $15 billion, making Italy the fourth largest trading partner in the European Union.

PM Modi and Meloni first met on the sidelines of the G20 Summit 2022 in Bali. The two leaders also met during the high-level G20 Summit held in September in New Delhi as well as the COP28 Summit in Dubai. Italy is increasing partnering with India as part of the European Union's Indo-Pacific strategy, and the former's withdrawal from China's Belt and Road Initiative has given an added impetus to the bilateral ties.

Italy is also looking to revive its defence ties with India. In 2016, AgustaWestland merged into Leonardo SpA, Finmeccanica’s new name, as its helicopter division, which India included in the list of companies restricted from conducting business with the Ministry of Defence. This ban was lifted in 2021. India and Italy are also deepening cooperation in research and development, technology transfer, clean technology, renewable energy, information and communication technology, healthcare, aerospace, education and more.

ALSO READ | G7 Summit: PM Modi to hold bilateral with Meloni but all eyes on possible meeting with Trudeau, Zelesnkyy


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