In a jolt to the Congress, former Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan resigned from the party on Friday and mounted a scathing attack on vice-president Rahul Gandhi for ‘interfering with decision-making’ during her tenure in the UPA II government.
She welcomed any inquiry into decisions taken by her as Minister, including a CBI probe. Ms. Natarajan was responding to Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar who said in Pune that all files relating to projects she had mentioned in her letter to party president Sonia Gandhi — which was published exclusively by The Hindu on Friday — would be reviewed.
Addressing a packed press conference here, an emotional Ms. Natarajan said she had always followed the party line and the views of the “high command” in deciding clearances for projects.
“I have no shame in stating that I was always a Gandhi family loyalist to the core….but I was let down by the party,” she said. “I have only followed the party line and rule book on all environment issues. To protect the forest rights of people and the rights of tribals in cases like Vedanta. There was no wrong doing on my part.”
“Specific inputs were received from the office of Rahul Gandhi based on the representation by NGOs raising environment concerns on certain large projects,” she said, but added that the inputs were in the nature of forwarded concerns of tribals and activists. She categorically denied that there could have been any “corruption” involved.
Ms. Natarajan announced that she would resign as trustee of the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee Trust. She said she did not have any idea of joining other political parties for now, including the BJP and Tamil Manila Congress. She had not met anyone from the BJP, she said.
‘Let them probe’
Speaking to reporters here, Ms Natarajan was reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charge during the Lok Sabha election campaign that industries had to “suffer” a ‘Jayanthi Tax’ to get project clearances.
“But 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 them investigate,” she said.
On returning to Congress
Asked whether she would reconsider her decision to quit the party if Ms. Sonia intervened, she said the time for such a development was past.
“I did receive calls over the last week from people close to her [Sonia Gandhi] asking me to come and meet her. But I felt it was too late,” she said, adding that her decision to go public resulted from the apathy of the high command to her attempts to reach them.
In fact, she received the first call in over 11 months from the party only when former Shipping Minister G.K. Vasan floated the TMC.
Attack on Rahul
The former Union Minister said the change in stance of the Congress vice-president at a conference of FICCI in December 2013, where he virtually blamed her Ministry for the bottleneck in clearing big-ticket projects worth millions, came as a “thunderbolt” from the blue.
On the reaction of Congress general secretary, Digvijay Singh, that she was “lying” and that Mr. Gandhi would never interfere in the manner stated, Ms. Natarajan said she would like to keep the conversation civilised and said she had all the documents to back each of her claim.