On 19 February 2012, the Kerala Police arrested two Italian marines—Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone—on murder charges. They were accused of shooting two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala on 15 February that year. A few months later, in May, they were granted bail on the condition that they would not leave Kochi, a city in Kerala, without the Kerala high court’s permission. In February 2013, the Supreme Court relaxed their bail conditions and allowed the marines to return to their country, to vote in Italy’s general elections. The Italian government subsequently refused to send the marines back to India, leading to a tense diplomatic standoff.
In retaliation, India restrained the then Italian ambassador, Daniele Mincini, from leaving the country. While the marines eventually returned to India in March that year, Narendra Modi, who was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate for the general elections due in 2014, politicised their brief exit from the country to target the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government that was in power. At the time, then Congress president Sonia Gandhi, whose Italian origin has been a recurring theme in the BJP’s nationalist narrative, chaired the UPA.
On 31 March 2014, while campaigning for the upcoming elections, Modi addressed a rally in Arunachal Pradesh’s Itanagar. “Who were those people who provided safe passage for Italy’s killers to return to Italy?” he said. “On whose directions did they return to Italy? Who were the powers that stopped them from coming back from Italy?”