Updated: February 1, 2015 10:45:35 am
Now and then comes a moment in the life of a columnist when an event vindicates writings that have too long been reviled for being partisan or motivated by personal interest. This moment came for me last week when Jayanthi Natarajan summoned up the courage to go public about decisions she was ordered to take as Minister of Environment by her former ‘high command’. This column has been writing against the malignant misuse of the Ministry of Environment ever since Jairam Ramesh was first given charge of it. And, never in 30 years of the Fifth Column’s existence in this newspaper has it come so close to being given the chop. This was because of the limitless powers Madonna and Child once had.
Since Jayanthi has admitted that she was forced to close Vedanta’s project in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills on the orders of Rahul Gandhi, I want to repeat the story of what would have happened if the project had gone ahead. Anil Agarwal’s idea of building an aluminium refinery close to a source of excellent bauxite reserves could have reduced the international price of aluminium by half. Aluminium is hugely important for the environment because it replaces wood, and Orissa may have become the world’s most important centre for its production. This made international producers nervous so an ageing socialite was recruited to help stop the project after the refinery was built at a cost of more than Rs 11,000 crore. This lady, almost famous long ago for marrying a rock star, was taken to Rahul Gandhi by a Delhi socialite, once very famous for her devotion to the Dynasty.
Rahul was easily persuaded. So off he trotted to the Niyamgiri hills to tell a gathering of tribal boys and girls, wearing very modern hairclips and ribbons, that he would be their ‘sipahi’ in Delhi. He thought it was their land that was being taken away but his Environment Minister closed the project for alleged violations of forest laws. Later in this newspaper’s Idea Exchange, N C Saxena (who headed a committee set up to look into the Vedanta proposal) admitted that Vedanta had brought prosperity to this primitive region and he would not have closed the project if 500 more jobs had been created.
This is only one story. If the Modi government starts examining major projects that were closed on fraudulent environmental grounds, they could find an ugly trail that leads to shady international lobbyists with very clear vested interests. Suffice to say here that nearly every project that was blocked benefited the interests of China. And, there is more. I know from excellent sources that when the Gandhi family wanted environmental rules broken for the benefit of its friends, this happened too. A hint is all I can provide here: rules to protect tiger reserves were loosened to enable friends of the family to set up plush tiger-spotting camps.
Since Jayanthi’s press conference, Congress spokesmen have been in hysterical overdrive in their efforts to protect the Dynasty. They have sought out TV reporters to tell them that neither Sonia nor Rahul Gandhi ever interfered in matters of policy or government. This is so completely untrue that not many people will believe them, but it is the Prime Minister’s duty to find out the extent of this interference and to make it public. What happened was extra-constitutional and must never be allowed to happen again. Already there are far too many Hindutva activists wandering about the corridors of vital ministries.
Whether they succeed in influencing policies or not, they are already trespassing on territory that must be restricted to elected officials and government servants. Having said this, I must clarify that nothing like what happened over the past decade is happening today. But, if the Prime Minister sees the smallest signs of extra-constitutional creatures interfering in policy, he would do well to nip their activities firmly in the bud.
While on the subject of the Prime Minister, may I add that his recent fashion disaster may not have cost Rs 10 lakh as Rahul Gandhi alleged at an election rally in Delhi, but it needs to be hidden away for good. They say he wore the jacket with his name woven into its stripes only because a friend gave it to him. Well the thing to do in future with this kind of gift is to treat it as a housecoat.
To end on a serious note. Political analysts have lately taken to gloating on national television that Narendra Modi’s honeymoon period is over and that this is reflected in the tough fight to win Delhi. Let them remember as they gloat that no matter what the flaws of this government, it has replaced one that did incalculable harm to India. It has replaced an evil empire whose contours become increasingly visible. An evil empire wisely rejected by India’s voters.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh
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