For a party that was rather bellicose about taking on the allegedly corrupt Congress in the run-up to the 2014 elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been unduly meek since coming to power. Its signature case against the senior Congress leadership involves the trivial matter of the National Herald newspaper. The investigative agencies haven't made much headway against figures like former minister P Chidambaram or Gandhi son-in-law Robert Vadra, about whom the BJP frequently fulminates.

Some of this has to do with the tortuous nature of India's judicial process, which mean major trials like the 2G telecom spectrum scandal and the coal scam will take months if not years to reach their conclusion. But there is also some hare-running and hound-hunting going on .

The BJP-run government wants to appease its core constituency and score political goals by attacking the Congress. But it wants to do this without creating the international perception of a Hindu nationalist party given to intolerance and unconstitutional vendettas.

Vendettas and witch-hunts

That sort of bumbling has recently backfired badly on the BJP: putting a Jawaharlal Nehru University student in jail turned him into a national hero. What would the sight of Congress President Sonia Gandhi behind bars do to the Congress flagging fortunes?

Just as it became defensive and flustered at the allegations of intolerance last year, the party has from the beginning wanted to ensure any action against the Congress is not spun globally as a witch hunt.

Telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad even spelled this out in an interview to the Indian Express, after an Italian court this month convicted businessmen from AgustaWestland of paying Indian officials bribes in return for a contract to buy VVIP choppers.

"This judgment of the [Italian] appellate court, which is equivalent to our High Court, has now come. It is confirming corruption, confirming payment of commission to Indian officials," he said. "And it is going to the doors of Congress bigwigs. Their names are in the judgment and are in the public domain."

"There can’t be any charge of any vendetta by us. We are pursuing the cases and everything will be done to ensure that the guilty are brought to book."

— Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister

The authorities have claimed that not much action was taken on the AgustaWestland case in the two years since the BJP came to power because a number of the people involved are outside the country.

Fig leaves

This is a convenient fig leaf for the BJP-run government, which has been more than happy to attack the Congress politically in that time. Even as it permits corruption-tainted leaders like Karnatka's BS Yeddyurappa to return to power in the party, the BJP has used legal and allegedly extra-legal means to overthrow Congress governments in Arunachal and Uttarakhand on its march towards a Congress-mukt Bharat [Congress-free India].

The anti-corruption plank that helped the BJP come to power has also given way to more emotive issues for the saffron party, like banning beef and insisting on the chanting of Bharat Mata ki jai.

But even if it has dispensed with the pretence of being opposed to corruption – other than parroting the patently untrue claim that there have been no allegations against the Modi government in the last two years – it hasn't even adequately taken on the previous regime. This has routinely led the BJP's more maverick leaders, like Ram Jethmalani, to criticise the government for not being serious about black money.

Italian headstart

The Italian appellate court's verdict gave the government a boost. Not only has a foreign court affirmed allegations of corruption against the previous administration, it happens to be a court in Italy, where the Congress President has her roots. Following up on the case wouldn't be a witch hunt, they would simply be the natural consequence of a judicial process that began abroad.

Unfortunately, the easy part ends there. The Italian court's judgment doesn't exactly pin anything on Sonia Gandhi, besides noting that she was the "driving force" behind a move to get newer VVIP aircraft. It is a little more direct about former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and makes references to a person called "AP", which is being read as Congress leader Ahmed Patel, but doesn't conclude any of them were involved in the corruption.

Moreover, the alleged middleman in the case, James Christian Michel – whom New Delhi wants to extradite from the United Kingdom – is singing a different tune. He told The Hindu that no money was paid to the Gandhis and that neither bureaucrats nor politicians were involved.

National Heraldry

The Indian authorities have found it terribly difficult to prosecute cases like this without a whistleblower, never mind the times when even having an inside source has not turned into actual action. The Central Bureau of Investigation might have an easier time making a case out in the AgustaWestland affair against Former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi. But actually laying blame at the door of Congress "bigwigs", as Ravi Shankar Prasad put it, still seems difficult.

Which is not to say that prosecuting Congress leaders is impossible. The Congress is vulnerable from numerous angles, as the National Herald case has shown. But the BJP also needs Parliament to function and laws to be passed, which has made it reluctant to use Congress corruption cases as anything other than political taunts.

As it enters its third year, the question once again comes up: Will the BJP be content to use AgustaWestland as a convenient way to win the current Parliament session and then forget about the matter? Or does it have the wherewithal to actually investigate allegations that it claims go up to Sonia Gandhi's door?