New Delhi: In a blow to Congress, senior leader Jayanthi Natarajan on Friday announced her resignation from the primary membership of 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.
The Congress, however, rallied behind Rahul Gandhi and dismissed as "completely baseless" the allegations of his interference in the work of Environment Ministry and accused her of having "ulterior motives".
While quitting Natarajan stated that the grand old party was no longer the party that she had joined 30 years ago, and said, "It is an extremely painful, heart-rending day for me, because my family has been associated with the Congress since its inception. I am a fourth-generation Congress worker and have Congress blood running in my veins. It is an extremely anguished moment that it has come to this position when I have to re-think my association with the Congress Party."
"Because of what has happened in the recent past, the Congress is no longer the Congress which I joined with such great hopes and ideals. I had a 30-year long association with the Congress - I have served as the spokesperson of the party for ten-long years without a single blemish on my career. I maintain that I served the nation and the party with great dedication to the best of my ability. But today, the party and the values that I joined is no longer the party that I joined," she added.
Giving the reasons why she was feeling overlooked by the Congress high command, Natarajan stated that despite all allegations, she was merely following the party line.
"When I was made the minister of environment, the party line was very clear - the policy of (former prime ministers) Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to preserve the environment must be protected at all costs. Therefore, it was my duty to make sure that every single step I took should be strictly according to law and rules and preserve the environment at all costs despite any interests to the contrary," she said.
"I received several instructions from the office of party vice president Rahul Gandhi, forwarding requests and representations from NGOs who complained about environmental deterioration due to some large projects and I was asked by him to make sure that the environment is protected at all costs and that large projects do not cause tremendous damage. I did my duty and had these projects investigated and some of them were stopped, including Vedanta, the Niyamgiri project, the Nirma cement plant. Many of my colleagues on the cabinet protested strongly, feeling that economic progress was being blocked," she added.
Natarajan further alleged that she had resigned as the environment minister on the orders of party president Sonia Gandhi, but later media speculations made her feel vilified.
"On December 20, 2013, the then-prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh called me to his room and told me that Sonia Gandhi wants me to resign as a minister and start working for the party. I gave my resignation and asked for an appointment with Sonia Gandhi, but spoke to her on the phone. Later, I received information that Rahul Gandhi's office was phoning media houses and telling them that I had not been asked to resign for party work. After that, there was a continuous campaign of speculation, vilification, defamation and wrong allegations against me. But when I had resigned, the prime minister had written a letter praising me," she said.
"The next day, Rahul Gandhi made a speech at FICCI, where he said that the environment would no longer be a 'bottleneck'. When I tried to contact him, he said he was busy and will meet me soon. But that appointment never materialised. When I met Sonia Gandhi in January 2014, I told her that I was being vilified in the media and would like to respond, but she told me to not go to the media. After that, I was never contacted, nor conferred with," she added.
Announcing her resignation, Natarajan also squarely laid the blame for her being sidelined on the party high command.
"My issues are with the national high command in Delhi which completely sidelined me. To meet the Congress president, I had gone to Delhi but was never given an appointment. The only time I was contacted was when GK Vasan split the party in Tamil Nadu," she said.
"I followed the rules and did as my party told me to do. However, I am announcing my resignation from the primary membership of the Congress. I want to uphold the legacy of my family, my integrity. I only did the right thing for my country and committed no wrongdoing," she added.
Earlier in the day, an English daily published a letter by Natarajan to Sonia Gandhi, dated November 2014, in which she alleged that she received 'specific requests' from party vice president Rahul Gandhi on environmental clearances.
The Congress rubbished her allegations about Rahul Gandhi's interference in the ministry's work as "not just completely unfair but also preposterously baseless."
Jairam Ramesh, who was Natarajan's immediate predecessor in the Ministry, said her allegations against Gandhi were "not just completely unfair but also preposterously baseless."
In a statement here, he said, "As Natarajan's immediate predecessor for slightly over 25 months, I can say with all honesty that at no point of time did Rahul Gandhi ever tell me, directly or indirectly, what to do or what not to do in the discharge of my ministerial responsibilities."
Rubbishing the allegations, M Veerappa Moily, who succeeded Natarajan in the Ministry, said Rahul Gandhi had never interfered in the functioning of the ministry.
He said in Bengaluru that neither Rahul nor Sonia Gandhi had any clamour for power and that is why they remained out of government.
"Soniaji could have become the Prime Minister thrice... Rahul ji also could become the Prime Minister anytime," he said, adding both, however, chose to remain away from government.
Congress spokesman P C Chacko said Natarajan has made the "wild allegation" against the party Vice President with an "ulterior motive."
Seeking to puncture Natarajan's charges, he wondered why she did not raise the issue in the party fora for the past one year in spite of several opportunities.
"Not making use of any of the opportunities, if they make this wild allegation, the reason is obvious. It is some ulterior motive. Let them do that......Congress never stops anyone from resigning. So Jayanthi can also go Krishna Tirath way."
Congress General Secretary Digvijay Singh said, "Neither Sonia Gandhi nor Rahul Gandhi have ever interfered in any government matter. If they wanted to do such thing, they would have become Minister or Prime Minister. All this talk is meaningless".
Taking a dig at Natarajan, he wondered how she has remembered all these things after such a long time.
Grand-daughter of former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Bhaktavatsalam, Natarajan hails from a family of Congress veterans who were associated with the Indian National Congress since its inception in 1885.
Her great-grandfather was a member of India's Constituent Assembly.
A Chennai-based lawyer, Natarajan entered politics as a Youth Congress worker in the 1980s. She was later noticed by the then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi. She went to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1986.
In a career that spans over 30 years, she has thrice been re-elected to the upper house of the parliament in 1992, 1997 and 2008.
Natarajan, who was frequently seen on television, was dropped as a Congress spokesperson in January 2014.
(With Agency Inputs)