The Congress on Friday dismissed former environment minister Jayanthi Nataranjan's allegations against AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi as "opportunistic and pageant'. Raising questions on the timing of her resignation the party said serious allegations of corruption were behind her removal from the then UPA govt.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters in Delhi that Natarajan was acting at the behest of her new "political masters" who may have got evidence against her.
The Congress also rallied behind Rahul, dismissing as "completely baseless" the allegations of his interference in the work of Environment Ministry and accused Nataranjan of having "ulterior motives".
Congress leader and former union minister Veerappa Moily said Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never interfered. "I have handled several ministries. I have not come across any instance where the Congress president or vice-president interfered with administration. I don't know what made her to make that statement against discipline of the party," Moily told reporters in Bangalore.
"If a (former) minister says I did something because of interference, she is unfit of being a minister. I was also the chairman of media committee of Congress, even then there was no interference," he said.
He said the move may be motivated.
"Why did she send a letter and make it public? That means she is motivated," he said.
Party leader Digvijaya Singh said in Delhi: "I really don't know what was the issue. First of all it is totally wrong that either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi ever interfered in the functioning of UPA government. Ministers were free to take decisions."
Former Union environment minister and four-time member of Parliament Jayanthi Natarajan quit the Congress party on Friday making damning allegations against AICC vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
In what can be described as the single largest attack and open revolt against Rahul Gandhi by a former UPA minister, Natarajan announced her decision to quit the party with which she was associated for three decades in press conference in Chennai.
"In an environment of suffocation in the party, I resign from the primary membership of the party and as a trustee of Congress in Tamil Nadu," she said.
Natarajan alleged there was specific direction from Rahul Gandhi in environmental clearances for projects involving big companies asking to protect environment.
"I received specific inputs via representations from NGOs given to Rahul Gandhi asking me to protect environment, which I did. Later, Rahul Gandhi addressed FICCI and told industrialists that environmental clearances would not be a problem."
"Gandhi have me a tough line I was asked to resign as the minister by the PM, but gave no reasons at all," she added.
"When I was made minister of environment, my party line was to follow Indira Gandhi's vision to protect environment at all costs," Natarajan told reporters.
"It was my duty to make sure that every single step I took, no matter how popular or unpopular it was to preserve environment," she said.
She said she was called to Delhi by party spokesperson Ajay Maken to attack Modi based on the decision taken by the high command.
"As a minister in UPA-II, I did not want to attack Modi on snoopgate issue but the party at the highest level wanted me to do so," she alleged.
"I wanted Congress to attack the BJP based on their policy and not an individual, but was overruled," said Natarajan.
Natarajan said she has been an "utter loyalist" of the Gandhi family and has "no shame in saying this". She claimed she was a good environment minister and always followed the party line.
"If any wrong-doings are found in my work, I am willing to be hanged," she said.
She said she has no issues with the state party but only with the national high command.
"I was as totally sidelined by the national high command," said Natarajan.
"I had to face anger and wrath of my cabinet colleagues who felt economic progress was being blocked."
Natarajan also said she does not know the reason behind her removal as the Congress spokesperson.
She, however, chose to remain silent on her future course of action and refused to divulge where she was headed.
"I have absolutely no plans to join any party at all," she said.
"It is a painful and emotional decision for me to quit the Congress with which our family was associated since its inception. My grandfather was the last Congress chief minister of Tamil Nadu," she said.
Sources indicated she could join GK Vasan's Tamil Maanila Congress, which may accept her if she chooses to join. Vasan too had left the Congress party and relaunched his father GK Moopanar's political outfit last year.
Natarjan acknowledged she had written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi to convey her anguish in November.
Natarajan had written to Sonia Gandhi in which she has accused Rahul Gandhi of 'micro-managing' decisions that she took as an environment minister under the UPA government.
In the explosive letter to Sonia Gandhi, Natarajan had accused Rahul Gandhi of meddling in the environment ministry's affairs.
The former UPA minister was criticised by the opposition and the then BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi of charging a 'Natarajan tax' for environmental clearances during the campaign for the 2014 general elections.
"My entire career is ruined, and above all, the sacred and venerable legacy of my family, which served our nation and party with immense distinction, and patriotism stands in danger of being tarnished," Natarajan said in her letter to Sonia Gandhi, written on November 5, 2014.
"I am still unable to understand what I have done wrong, or what crime I have committed to have been treated like this in the party I have faithfully served so long. I want to categorically state that I have always been a loyal, sincere dedicated party worker, implicitly obeying the orders of my leaders. I have always carried out any task assigned to me with sincerity and dedication, and have never been guilty of any wrongdoing of any kind, in my public and personal life," she wrote in her letter.
Smarting under her unceremonious sacking, Natarajan said she has not been till date given the reason as to why she was dropped from the ministry.
"I want to place on record, that from December 20, 2013, until now, I have still not been told by you, why I was asked to resign from the Council of Ministers, nor have I ever been asked or given an opportunity to explain, if indeed I had committed any wrongdoing. On the other hand, the then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh wrote a letter to me, accepting my resignation, in which he praised the excellent work I had done as minister, and what he termed my valuable contribution as minister. In these circumstances, it was clearly not the Prime Minister nor my work in Government, which led to my ouster as minister. Thus it still baffles me, why I was humiliated so brutally," said Natarajan.
She has written that she received "specific requests" from Rahul Gandhi on environmental clearances and made sure she followed them. She repeatedly says that she took decisions in line with party diktat adding that these were guided by the Prime Minister's Office.
"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," Natarajan said in her letter, which is being construed as a farewell letter by political analysts.
She alleged she had become a victim of a "vicious, false and motivated" media campaign by particular, chosen individuals in the party after Rahul Gandhi shifted from his pro-environmental position to a corporate-friendly one during the campaign for Lok Sabha elections.
"I received information that persons from the office of Shri Rahul Gandhi were calling the media and planting stories that my resignation was NOT for party work."
"What followed was a hysterical vicious false and motivated campaign against me, in the media, orchestrated entirely by particular chosen individuals in the party. There was not a single word of truth in what was said, nor was there a single concrete fact."
Natarajan had resigned in December 2013, months before the 2014 general elections and the Congress had then claimed that she would instead focus on party work.