In a setback to Congress, senior leader Jayanthi Natarajan on Friday quit the party and mounted a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi accusing him of interference in environment ministry during her stint even as government indicated a review of green clearances of the United Progressive Alliance regime.
A longtime Congress loyalist, Natarajan claimed she followed Rahul’s directions on the issue of green nod to certain big ticket projects but was “vilified, humiliated and sidelined” by the central leadership.
She also said she has no plans to join any other political party after “such bitter experiences” and refuted reports she had met some Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.
“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 at a hurriedly called press conference in Chennai.
Natarajan said she was ready to face a probe over green clearances granted by her. “I have done no wrong. I am willing to be hanged or go to jail if any concrete proof of my wrongdoing is established,” Natarajan said.
In this context, Natarajan downplayed the ‘Jayanthi Tax’ barb from Narendra Modi during a poll campaign by the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, saying that when her own party treated her so badly, how can she blame someone who was in the opposition.
“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.
Let the Central Bureau of Investigation investigate. I welcome it. I look forward to it because it will give me an opportunity to explain my position,” Natarajan said.
The National Democratic Alliance government indicated it will take a fresh look at environmental clearances for projects granted or rejected by the previous UPA government
“I hope the environment ministry now will go into each of these permissions which were granted and not granted and make sure that these are expeditiously dealt with only as per law and no other consideration,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told reporters in Delhi.
Jaitley was reacting to Natarajan’s letter to Congress President Sonia Gandhi alleging that she had received specific requests from Rahul Gandhi on environmental clearances and consequently had rejected big ticket projects.
In a counter-attack on Natarajan, Congress raised questions on the timing of her resignation and said serious allegations of corruption were behind her removal from the then UPA government. She was also dubbed as “opportunistic”.
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 the environment ministry and accused her of having “ulterior motives”.
“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 Vedanata. There was no wrongdoing on my part,” Natarajan said.
Natarajan said she cannot continue in the “suffocating atmosphere” in the party.
Virtually opening a can of worms, she accused Rahul Gandhi’s office of planting stories to sully her reputation after she had resigned as the environment minister on the direction of Sonia Gandhi. She resigned in May 2013.
“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 suggesting that the Congress vice-president had interfered in the decision making process.
She rued that she was not given a hearing by the top leadership after a flurry of media reports carrying “insinuation and innuendo” against her.
“I was totally sidelined by the national high command,” she said recounting that her repeated attempts to seek an audience with Sonia and Rahul were unsuccessful and added that “even a murderer” gets a chance from the court to explain his position. She said she had a 30-year long association with the Congress.
She also said that as a minister in UPA-II, she did not want to attack Narendra Modi on snoopgate issue but was told that the party at the highest level wanted her to do so.