Setting off a political storm, Congress leader and former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan quit the party on Friday after mounting a direct attack on Rahul and Sonia Gandhi and sent clear signals of reaching out to the BJP. She accused Rahul Gandhi of interference in the environment ministry by sending her “specific requests” on green clearances for large projects which she duly stopped to “honour those requests”.
An old Congress hand, Natarajan claimed she followed Rahul’s directions but he later “changed his stand in favour of corporates” and she was “vilified, humiliated and sidelined” by the party leadership.
Addressing a press conference in Chennai after her letter to Sonia Gandhi — it was dated November 5, 2014 — was published by The Hindu on Friday morning, Natarajan said she was ready to face a probe over the issue of green clearances. “I have done no wrong. I am willing to be hanged or go to jail if any concrete proof of my wrongdoing is established,” she said.
She played down the ‘Jayanthi Tax’ remark made by Narendra Modi in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, saying “if my own party treats me so badly, why should I blame him… He was in opposition. If Modi is talking of Jayanthi Tax, let the CBI investigate. I welcome it, I look forward to it because it will give me an opportunity to explain my position”.
In her letter to Sonia Gandhi, Natarajan claimed she was told to attack Modi on “Snoopgate”, that she initially refused but was told she had no choice since a decision had been taken at the “highest level” in the Congress.
She also claimed a file on the Adani Group went missing and officials later found it “apparently in the washroom of the computer section” the very day she was told to resign as minister. “Clearly some officials in my then Ministry did not want to send that file back to me, for unknown reasons.”
(Read from the archives: Dec 30, 2013: Jayanthi ministry okayed projects,then sat on them)
“As Chairperson NAC, you have written several letters to me regarding projects in the Environment Ministry, and protection of tribal rights, and I have always kept you briefed… I received specific requests (which used to be directives for us) from Shri Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honour those ‘requests’,” her letter stated.
She referred to Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Niyamgiri hills in Orissa, how he had “publicly declared to the Dongria Kondh tribals that he would be their ‘sipahi’ and would not allow their interests to suffer at the hands of mining giant Vedanta. His views in the matter were conveyed to me by his office, and I took great care to ensure that the interests of the tribals were protected and rejected environmental clearance to Vedanta despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as ‘stalling’ a Rs 30,000-crore investment from Vedanta. Fortunately, my decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.”
“The same happened in the case of the Adani projects, where I faced tremendous criticism from within the cabinet and outside, for stalling investment at a time when the country was going through a difficult time in terms of the economy. The complaints of the local fisherfolk and NGOs of environmental violations in the Adani case were forwarded to me by Shri Rahul Gandhi’s office… Occasionally, I apprised Shri Rahul Gandhi of steps I had taken, and he responded positively. In fact you have yourself conveyed your concern in this regard in letters written to me,” the letter stated.
“In several cases including the stalled GVK power project regarding the Dhari Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh, the Lavasa project in Maharashtra, the Nirma cement plant in Gujarat and in several other cases I was given specific input, to make my decision,” she wrote.
Speaking to reporters, Natarajan said: “Whether my stands were popular or unpopular, despite strong criticism from cabinet colleagues, I stood by the party policy, honouring them. But all of a sudden, I was asked to resign. I was not given protection from the party when speculation and rumours arose. I was silent since Sonia had insisted I avoid the media.”
(Read from the archives: Dec 24, 2013: Behind Jayanthi’s exit: scraps with Moily, her rejection of ‘consensus’ GM report)
She said that on December 20, 2013, she was summoned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his office. She said he told her that Sonia Gandhi wanted her to resign as she was needed for party work. The day after she resigned as minister, she was told that people from the office of Rahul Gandhi were “planting” stories that her resignation had nothing to do with party work.
In her letter to Sonia Gandhi, she stated that “the day after I resigned, Shri Rahul Gandhi addressed a FICCI meeting of industrialists, where he made uncomplimentary references to delays in environmental clearances, and the adverse effects upon the economy, and assured the corporate world, that the party and government would henceforth ensure that there would be no delays, and bottlenecks for industry”.
“I wrote a passionate message to Shri Rahul Gandhi, about my removal as Minister, and his speech, at FICCI, and asked him what wrongdoing I had committed to warrant this treatment… I asked for time to meet him. He replied that he was “running a little busy” at that time, but that he would meet me a little later. Despite several requests, that day never came.”
Congress’s PC Chacko reacted to the development.
PC Chacko,Congress on Jayanthi Natarajan : Making such wild allegations is unfair pic.twitter.com/PMfGTD2i5L
— ANI (@ANI_news) January 30, 2015