The Modi Sarkar is really annoyed. It was handed the perfect opportunity to attack the Congress after an Italian court found some businessmen guilty of bribing Indian officials while selling AgustaWestland helicopters to New Delhi during the United Progressive Alliance years. The judgment even obliquely mentions Congress President Sonia Gandhi. And yet, over the last few days it is Narendra Modi's government that has felt the need to put out statements defending its actions, including on Friday, a 1,300-word magnum opus.

What gives?

At the centre of it all lies the unsettling allegation that Modi offered the freedom of the two Italian marines accused of murdering two Kerala fishermen in 2012 in return for evidence against the Gandhi family in the Agusta Westland case.

Friday's statement, issued by Arun Jaitley's Information and Broadcasting ministry, comes after clarifications by Jaitley himself in the Rajya Sabha, by the External Affairs Ministry and by the Defence Ministry, all defending actions by the government. These have been continuously repeated by the echo chamber of government and Bharatiya Janata Party spokespersons on television.

The statement's opening lines wax eloquent as only a defence being overseen by Jaitley can.

"In the matter pertaining to acquisition of Agusta Westland helicopters, the undisputed central issue that stands out is corruption, especially bribery. Any other line of assumption, approach and effort, as is being attempted in some quarters, is misleading, tries to hide the wrong-doers and is driven by instincts of self preservation." 

— Ministry of Information & Broadcasting

This is followed by declarations about the "speed, drive and purpose" of the new government as it tries to "relentlessly pursue fearless and transparent governance".

"It is indeed tragic that a small section of the Indian polity has attempted, unsuccessfully, to divert and diffuse the public discourse on this matter. They question the speed of the government processes, especially the investigation. But, they do not ask how the corrupt influenced the process of acquisition in the first place and bled the nation. They do not admit corruption; they instead boldly proclaim, 'catch us if you can.'"

This is most likely a reference to Congress President Sonia Gandhi's statement insisting she is "not afraid of anyone". But it's worth remembering at this point that this is not a BJP statement – this is the official word of the government of India and that very government seems to be spending its time lamenting the tragic diversionary tactics of a "small section of the Indian polity".

The statement goes on to provide specifics about the investigative action taken in the AgustaWestland case, including putting on hold all procurement through any connected companies and asserts that any question of permitting the company to bid for other contracts is false.

It also usefully offers a timeline of government agency actions in the case, pointing out that the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation started sending Letters of Request out in 2013, under the UPA government. The CBI has since issued warrants and Red Corner notices and even made an extradition request for alleged middleman James Christian Michel.


And here is where we get, so to speak, to the meat of the matter.

After being on the front foot ever since the Italian court found the AgustaWestland businessmen guilty, the BJP-led government was given its first setback in the case thanks to statements by Michel. The alleged middleman told the Hindu that no money was paid to the Gandhis or any Indian politicians and bureaucrats.

More sensationally, he told the Telegraph back in February that Modi had arranged a quick meeting with the Italian Prime Minister on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York in September 2015.

At this meeting, Michel claims Modi offered the freedom of the Italian marines – whose arrests strained India's relationship with Rome and had turned into an election issue there – in return for evidence against the Gandhi family in the AgustaWestland case.

At the time the MEA refused to deny a conversation between Modi and the Italian PM, and its latest clarification also only insists that there was no meeting between the two "as a part of the PM's bilateral meetings", which leaves the door open for a brush-by chat.

Back to the statement:

"Those who cannot see Prime Minister succeed even hint at him cutting a deal. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Prime Minister Modi did not cut any deal of any sort. His only goal and priority is the development of comprehensive national power, and empowerment of our masses." 

Indeed, the statement goes so far as to label Michel a "criminal" – as it stands, he remains an accused person, not a convict – and insists that anyone suggesting the government should have taken up the middleman's offer for cooperation would be "siding with a criminal".

Here is where it gets even juicier.

Always content to forget the Streisand effect, the government uses the statement to call out the other rumours floating about. Namely, allegations that a man accused of being the principal beneficiary in the case,former Air Force chief SP Tyagi, has connections to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's Vivekananda Foundation. The Prime Minister's principal secretary Nripendra Misra was also a member of its executive council.

"A few have even sought to link one of the accused with Shri Ajit Doval, present NSA, as also Shri Nripendra Mishra, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. This is a totally baseless assertion, devoid of reason and logic, and indicative of malicious intent. In reality, there is no such connection."

The statement then seeks to address a few allegations connected to state governments, before arriving at a concluding point, which, according to the Telegraph, initially included a hilarious typo.

"The Government appeals to the countrymen not to recognize the nature and depth of corruption in Agusta Westland case. The investigative agencies will stay their course in unveiling the corrupt and holding them accountable to our public." (emphasis added)

Apparently, the ministry had to send out a clarification asking for that "not" to be deleted, in some ways, saying everything that needs to be said.

Read the entire text of the I&B statement here.