Here are 11 things we learnt about Rahul Gandhi’s style of functioning from former Union minister Jayanthi Natarajan’s November 2014 letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
On Friday, former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan quit the Congress party, after mounting a scathing attack on Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, claiming that she followed his directions on environmental nod to projects but was "vilified, humiliated and sidelined" by the party high command -- or, in this case, "the highest level".
Natarajan, a fourth generation Congress leader from her family, said that it was "extremely painful and very heartrending day" for her when things have to come to a position where she has to disassociate herself from the party.
In November 2014, she had written to Congress President Sonia Gandhi listing her grievance at the manner she had been treated by the party, for which she got no reply.
Not only has her (external link) letter not been responded to, it has also not been rebutted.
Here are some facts about the Congress and United Progressive Alliance II’s functioning we could glean from Jayanthi’s damaging missive.
1. Rahul Gandhi’s people were planting stories against her
On December 20, 2013, (the then) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Jayanthi to his office and asked her to resign. He said ‘Jayanthi, I have been told by Congress President, that your services are required for party work,’ she writes in her letter.
‘The next day my resignation was headlines in the media, and all the initial reports correctly reported that I had stepped down for party work. By the afternoon, to my shock, 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,’ Jayanthi writes, adding, ‘My sources were impeccable.’ Thereafter, she says, the media was flooded with negative stories about her.
2. Rahul Gandhi fobbed off a fourth-generation loyalist with ‘I am running a little busy’
The day after she resigned, Jayanthi says in her letter, Rahul Gandhi addressed a FICCI meeting ‘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.’
What followed, she says, 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.’
‘I was shattered by the attack upon me, and bewildered,’ says Jayanthi, and 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 told him that my family legacy and my name would be forever ruined, and all I had done was my duty. I asked him to tell me, what wrong I had committed. I asked for time to meet him.’
Rahul Gandhi replied to her saying he was ‘running a little busy’ and he would meet her a little later.
3. Sonia Gandhi lied to her about drafting her for party work
In the first week of January 2014 Jayanthi managed to secure an appointment with Congress President Sonia Gandhi, and explained to her the agony she had been facing since being asked to step down as minister and over the attack she has been facing in the media.
Sonia told her, Jayanthi writes, that as the Lok Sabha elections were coming up she was required for party work, barring her specifically from going to the media with her side of the story.
From then till November 5, 2014, when Jayanthi wrote to the Congress president, neither was she given any party work nor was she allowed to meet Sonia.
4. Sacked as party spokesperson, no reason given
Jayanthi writes in her letter that in January 2014, she got a sudden call from Ajay Maken, head of Congress’s media cell, saying she has been removed as the party’s panel of spokespersons and other work would be assigned to her, as per the decision taken “at the highest level”.
Jayanthi points out that this was done despite her having served as spokesperson defending the party for 10 years, through the time when her mother was suffering from brain tumour.
‘It was therefore clearly a deliberate decision to remove me from the list of spokespersons, and for reasons which are still unknown to me.’
5. Using her to attack Modi on Snoopgate
‘I also feel that I have been pressurised and used to lead issues which I considered wrong,’ writes Jayanthi, and points to Snoopgate, on which she was called upon to attack the BJP’s (then) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, causing her ‘great agitation’.
She initially refused, since she felt the party should attack Modi on policy and governance, and ‘not drag an unknown woman into a controversy’.
‘Shri Maken telephoned me on November 16, 2013, while I was on tour and asked me to come to Delhi immediately to address a press conference on the issue. I expressed my disinclination to do this, and refused the assignment, mentioning that I was a minister at that time, and this should not be taken as the point of view of the government.
‘Shri Maken told me once again, that this was a decision taken at “the highest level” and that I had no choice in the matter.’
Not only this, even after the press conference, throughout the controversy which followed, Jayanthi says she was told by Maken to fiercely attack Modi on TV channels and during debates, although I was otherwise never fielded in the media after appointment as minister.
6. ‘Specific requests’ came from Rahul on protecting environment
Although Rahul Gandhi attacked Jayanthi at a FICCI meeting for stalling the economy with her pro-green stand in the environment ministry, she writes that she ‘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”.’
7. Stalling Vedanta project raised Cabinet’s ire
‘Shri Rahul Gandhi went in person to Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, and 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,’ writes Jayanthi, and ‘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 Vendanta.’
This decision, she writes, was taken ‘despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in the cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as “stalling” a Rs 30,000 crore investment from Vedanta.’
Fortunately for her, Jayanthi, says, her decision was upheld by the Supreme Court.
8. Rahul took lead in stalling Adani projects
The same happened with Adani projects, too, Jayanthi says, where she 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, and I was told to liaise with Shri Dipak Babaria in the matter. Occasionally, I apprised Shri Rahul Gandhi of steps I had taken, and he responded positively,’ she writes in her letter.
9. Jayanthi was given specific inputs on environment
Jayanthi writes: ‘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.'
‘Apart from this Shri Pulok Chatterji, principal secretary to the prime minister was in constant touch with me, and officers of the ministry in guiding the decisions to be taken by the ministry at that time.’
10. The missing Adani file
M Veerappa Moily, who succeeded Jayanthi as environment minister, put her green orders on hold, writes Jayanthi.
‘A few days before I was removed as minister, I needed to review the Adani file for some legal issues. When I sent for the file, I was told that it was “missing.” After considerable search, my officials “found” it, apparently in the washroom of the computer section, the very day on which I had been asked to resign. Clearly some officials in my then ministry did not want to send that file back to me, for unknown reasons.’
11. Congress party shaken by G K Vasan’s exit
On November 3, 2014, G K Vasan quit the Congress in Tamil Nadu. While the party put up a brave face in a state where it exists more on paper than on the ground, the fact was that it went into a tizzy trying to find out who else will join him.
‘It was only on the day before Shri Vasan left, that I received my first ever communication from AICC in the form of a telephone call from Shri Motilal Vora, who wanted to know what my stand was regarding Shri Vasan, and what my future course of action would be,’ writes Jayanthi. ‘Until Shri Vasan left, nobody even spoke to me.’
Images: (Top) A Congress worker holds a cut-out of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi. Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters. (Above) Jayanthi Natarajan addresses a press conference in Chennai on Friday.