Lest the opposition pulls out her Italian roots, the Congress president called up Singh and asked him to issue a strong warning. She told him that she would be grateful if India tells Italy in no uncertain terms that it should honour its commitment and send the two marines back to India. Both are facing trial in the country for killing two fishermen, off the Kerala coast.
Initially the government was cautious. On Tuesday, as soon as Left MPs from Kerala quoted the prime minister telling them that Italy's behaviour was "unacceptable", the PMO flatly denied the statement. PMO officials clarified that Singh had said the government would do "whatever needs to be done".
With the BJP cornering the government for "going soft" on Italy, the Congress tried to contain the damage. Also, it did not want the saffron party to link the matter with Gandhi's Italian roots or to bring Bofors, involving Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, back to the limelight.
Sources in the Congress as well as the government told DNA that Gandhi stepped in on Tuesday evening and asked the PM to take a tough stand. Also, it was she who suggested that Singh issue a suo motu statement in Parliament.
BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar had alleged "diplomatic collusion" between the UPA and the government of Italy. "When it comes to Italy, why does the government's stand becomes soft?" he had asked.
And on Wednesday, Gandhi made it a point to attend the Lok Sabha proceedings and even led the thumping of desks when the prime minister conveyed to the house that his government had warned Italy.
The foreign ministry and the security establishment had earlier told the government to wait till March 22 when the parole period of the marines Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre expires. And if Italy did not change its stand by then, let the court take action on the Italian envoy. The ministry had indicated that the government should avoid coming into the picture to avoid a diplomatic fallout.
The ministry was worried that Italy might use the help of the European Union to thwart India's attempts to bring back the marines. The Supreme Court allowed them to go back to Italy to cast their votes on the assurance of the Italian ambassador that they would return to India.
India has now markedly hardened its position and is in the process of "thoroughly reviewing" bilateral ties. As a first step, it has asked its ambassador-designate to Italy, Basant Kumar Gupta, who was scheduled to leave for Rome on Friday, not to go.
The home ministry has alerted all airports that Italian Ambassador Daniele Mancini should not be allowed to leave the country.
On Thursday, the government announced it would review the entire gamut of relations with Italy — diplomatic, trade and defence ties — apart from reaching out to the European Union. India has briefed the union about its views on the matter.
Italy is among India's top five trading partners in the EU and the 12th largest investor in India. In 2011-12, the bilateral trade was 8.52 billion euros — an increase of 18% compared to the previous year.