Former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan quit the Congress on Friday with a scathing attack on party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, accusing him of forcing her to stall big-ticket projects by the Vedanta and Adani groups while making her a scapegoat for the UPA government’s economic woes.
Ending her three-decade-long association with the party, Natarajan said she was ready to face investigation into environmental clearances by her when she was a minister in the UPA government and had no plans to join any other political party after “such bitter experiences”.
“I received several requests and memorandums from the Congress vice-president. I was asked by his office to protect and preserve the environment. I was asked by the Congress vice-president’s office to ensure the environment was protected and these large projects don’t cause havoc to environment,” she told a news conference in Chennai.Natarajan said she had come under pressure from Rahul while in office to hold back approval for mega projects and was then stunned to hear him publicly blame her for the delays in a speech to industrialists.
On this list were Vedanta Resources’ plans to mine bauxite in Odisha from land held sacred by tribespeople and some Adani Group ventures, Natarajan said.
The controversy adds to the Congress’ woes following a string of electoral defeats and growing internal dissent since last year.
Natarajan said she was “totally sidelined by the national high command” and her repeated attempts to meet with Rahul and party president Sonia Gandhi were unsuccessful.
“Over the last 11 months, I have suffered the most excruciating mental agony, and have been continuously attacked, wrongly vilified and defamed in the media, and exposed to every possible humiliation in public life,” the four-time member of Parliament said in a letter to the Congress chief last year, copies of which were distributed at the press conference.
The former UPA minister said she was forced to resign in December 2013 following pressure from the Gandhis. She also came under attack during the campaign for last year’s general elections when the Opposition and then BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi accused her of charging a “Jayanthi tax” for environmental clearances.
With the Congress on the mat, finance minister Arun Jaitley led the BJP’s charge to pin the party down, saying the previous UPA government was promoting “sadistic economics” and “crony capitalism”.
“Among main reasons for slow growth during the UPA government’s term were delays in granting permission to projects. They used to get satisfaction by giving people trouble. This was sadistic economics,” he said at a press conference in Delhi. “In a scenario where whims overtake legal requirements, it becomes a textbook case of crony capitalism, which the UPA was practising.”
Jaitley’s cabinet colleague, environment minister Prakash Javadekar , said he would review the files where allegations of extraneous influence have been mentioned.
“The revelations made by Jayanthi Natarajan in her letter to Sonia Gandhi, which have become public today, are a matter of great concern and is a serious issue,” he said. “I will definitely review those files and see the facts for myself.”
Dismissing the charges as baseless, Congress leaders rallied behind Rahul Gandhi and said Natarajan was removed from office following allegations of corruption.
“There may not be evidence to take legal action, but a minister may be removed on the basis of allegations — this is a fact,” said party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi. “Jayanthi is acting at the behest of her new political masters who may have got evidence against her.”
Questioning her delayed resignation from the Congress and the allegations, party leader Anand Sharma dared Natarajan to file a defamation case against Prime Minister Modi, saying it was he who used to target her with the “Jayanthi tax” barb.
“If Jayanthi is offended that her reputation has been sullied, she should not complain about Sonia (Gandhi) and Rahul. They have not done it,” he said.
“She should file a defamation case against Modi, who repeatedly used the Jayanthi tax barb during the Lok Sabha poll campaign.” Following the Congress attacks, Natarajan said she did not wish to react to such falsehoods being spread against her.
(With agency inputs)