Former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan resigned from the primary membership of the Congress party today, making public in a detailed letter the inner workings of the previous UPA government and the high command culture of the Congress party. She alleged that she has been kept in the dark about why she was summarily sacked as environment minister of UPA2, although she was removed just 100 days ahead of elections, damaging her career and the legacy of her family.
Once a feisty spokesperson of the Congress, Natarajan said she felt humiliated and wronged to have been denied even an appointment with Congress president Sonia Gandhi or vice president Rahul Gandhi after serving the party for 30 years.
"This is an extremely painful moment for me," Natarajan said in an emotional press conference in Chennai.
She said that during her tenure as minister she was asked to criticise Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat. "Against my wishes, I attacked Mr Modi on Snoopgate," she said at the conference.
CBI had registered a preliminary enquiry against Natarajan in October in a case of alleged irregularities in granting environment clearances and mining rights in Jharkhand forests to Jindal Steel and Power Ltd and JSW Steel. It is also noteworthy that her decision to leave the Congress, raising allegations publicly, comes days before the Delhi elections, scheduled for February 7.
Natarajan said that she does not plan to join any other party. "I have absolutely no plan to join any other party. I will think about my life and my future in the days ahead," she said.
Earlier today, The Hindu published a letter she had written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi saying that Rahul Gandhi pushed her to not grant environmental clearances for industrial projects, and that she was sacked from her post despite obeying his instructions.
Natarajan, a four-time member of parliament, had written the letter on November 5 last year. The letter generated immediate controversy, with its stringent criticism of Rahul Gandhi.
“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,” she said in the letter. “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,” the letter said.
Despite that, she was asked to quit the ministry a couple of months before the national elections in May 2014. No explanation was given, except that she was needed for party activities.
"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," she wrote in the letter to Sonia Gandhi.
The Congress suffered a rout in the general elections in May under Rahul Gandhi's leadership, where it managed a mere 44 seats. Narendra Modi-led BJP swept the elections and came to power with the biggest majority in last three decades.
This has been the most severe public criticism of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress' style of functioning.
Natarajan alleged in the letter that there was a vicious media campaign against her, and Congress politicians were behind that. "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," she said in the letter.
Natarajan mentioned two projects which her Cabinet colleagues were urging her to approve, but she did not, on Gandhi's directions. One was Vedanta's proposal for bauxite mining in Odisha, which would have been a Rs 30,000 crore project. Rahul Gandhi had visited the area and promised tribals that the project won't be allowed. "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 despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in cabinet, and huge criticism from industry," says Natarajan in the letter.
Natarajan says that she was asked by Gandhi's office to stall projects by the Adani group, and was asked to coordinate with Gujarat's Congress politician Deepak Babaria about complaints against the group by local NGOs and fishermen. She also mentioned a stalled GVK power project in Himachal Pradesh, the Lavasa project in Maharashtra, and Nirma cement plant in Gujarat as examples where Rahul Gandhi's office had given her specific inputs on how to proceed.
BJP's Arun Jaitley strongly criticised the Congress. "When whims overtake legal requirements it becomes a textbook case of crony capitalism. This is exactly what the UPA government was practising. The UPA tried to built a sadistic economy that was vindictive in nature. This is precisely why India suffered in the last few years of the UPA government," he said in a TV interview after news of the letter came out.
"Revelations made by Jayanthi Natarajan matter of great concern, will review those specific files," said Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar.