Chennai: In a blow to Congress, senior leader Jayanthi Natarajan today quit the party as she mounted a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi accusing him of interference in the Environment ministry during her stint and said she was ready to face a probe over green clearances granted by her.
A longtime Congress loyalist, Natarajan claimed that she followed Rahul’s directions on green nod to projects but was “vilified, humiliated and sidelined” by central leadership. She also said she has no plans to join any other political party after “such bitter experiences”.
“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 at a hurriedly called press conference here.
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 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 CBI investigate. I welcome it. I look forward to it because it will give me an opportunity to explain my position,” Natarajan said.
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 govt.
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 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 wrong doing on my part,” she 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 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.
“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 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.
Natarajan said she has also quit as the trustee of the Tamil Nadu unit Congress.
Natarajan said she had to face heated opposition from cabinet colleagues, who felt economic progress was being blocked.
“I had to keep telling them that environment projects and future is not destroyed at all cost.. I did it because the party wanted me to do.”
Observing that she was not able to digest or tolerate the way she was being treated, Natarajan said, “I felt if I am not getting an explanation from my party… There is no democracy in my party. Hence, I have to go public with my side of the events.”
“Nobody so far has given me a concrete allegation of any wrongdoing and I have committed no wrongdoing, she said, adding, “If anybody is able to show that I have done anything wrong, I am willing to be hanged, am willing to be jailed.”
On the manner in which BJP leaders reacted to it, she said the BJP government was welcome to look at every single clearance she had given.
“I think it is a good opportunity to reiterate over here that 92 per cent of clearances are given at the state and regional level and eight per cent alone were given by the MoEF of the Centre, which I signed.”
She also refuted charges of being blackmailed by some corporates or unknown elements, especially ahead of the Delhi Assembly polls.
“I refute and deny that allegation. No 1, to be categorical, and second I don’t even understand it. I have been to Delhi once in the last 18 months. I have absolutely no connection with any corporates.”
Asked if she had let her party down by not contesting the Lok Sabha polls, she said she was in a state of absolute dejection and depression because of the vilification campaign.
“In that state of mind, I was not ready to contest the polls. That much anguish in my mind I had, I was in no condition to contest the polls.”
Asked if she thought Rahul and Sonia Gandhi were dictatorial, she said, “I feel that I should have been told if there was any change in the party position.”
She also refuted claims she had met some BJP leaders.
On the Environment Minister’s announcement that all clearances made during the UPA would be reviewed, she said “I welcome it with all my heart. My only request to the minister of environment is to make the progress of review transparent and bring everything to the public domain.”
Reacting to Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh’s comment that Rahul Gandhi would have become minister if he wanted to, she said, “I wait for Rahul Gandhi to reply or some official statement and I have sufficient reply, I want to practice civilised politics.”