New Delhi: Former Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan on Friday had claimed that she was asked to look into “specific requests” by none other than Rahul Gandhi’s office when she was at the helm of the all important ministry (2011-2013). But the timing of her releasing the contents of the letter in public domain has put the question in everyone’s mind, is it really “anguish” or is there more than what meets the eye?
Being the granddaughter of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Bakthavatsalam in the sixties, politics came relatively easier to Jayanthi Natarajan. But she was never a mass leader to begin with, and her proximity to Rajiv Gandhi ensured that she entered the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) in 1986 when she was just 32 years old. Much to the discomfiture of most Congressmen, she was to get four terms from the same party since then. She had almost everything she could have asked for in the party, she was spokesperson for over a decade and was symbolic of the party’s focus on women under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership. But then what went wrong for her in the last one year that she took the extreme step of accusing Rahul Gandhi of corruption?
She was dumped as minister and the party soon removed her from the panel of spokespersons, her demands for being rehabilitated within the party was met with silence from the high command. The CBI has already filed Preliminary Enquiry into the alleged connivance of Union Environment ministry officials in diverting “forest land” in Saranda, Jharkhand, to big corporate houses during Natarajan’s tenure.
Allegations of overruling the Forests Advisory Committee (FAC) and handing out big ticket contracts had been doing the rounds since then. With the CBI likely to grill the former minister soon, time was running out for Natarajan.
The Congress was taken by surprise by her move, but quickly swung into action and rubbished her allegations. “When I went to Mumbai, many people were complaining to me about her during a conference few months before she was removed as minister,” says Anand Sharma, former Commerce Minister and senior Congress leader. By evening, the party had come around to blaming vested interests (read BJP) for the fiasco.
“It should be clear to one and all that at whose instance she wrote the letter are the ones who coined the phrase Jayanthi Tax. It is also clear that the pressure exerted from the same people is the reason why she has written this letter now,” said Abhishek Singhvi, spokesperson Congress and Rajya Sabha member.
She could have been given the benefit of doubt, but for her mention of “Snoopgate” controversy and her not being in sync with the party over criticizing Narendra Modi during the 2014 election campaign. Though she has put up a brave front, the CBI probe is giving her anxious moments. The DMK and the AIADMK have no need or interest in inducting her into their fold, the only option therefore remains of either BJP or going back to Tamil Maanila Congress revived by GK Vasan.
Her decision to attack Rahul Gandhi on the issue of corruption has also ruffled feathers within the Congress. The past one year has seen many senior leaders leave the party in a huff. The likes of Jagdambika Pal and Rao Inderjit Singh are back in Parliament on a BJP ticket, Singh is a Union minister now. Former Haryana Congress stalwart Chaudhary Birendra Singh is a cabinet minister in Modi Government while others former ministers like D Purandeshwari, Krishna Tirath and GK Vasan have all quit, but none levelled any personal charges against the Congress vice president.
With her political future uncertain, Natarajan seems to have taken the final plunge by offering an olive branch to the BJP. But if she gets mired in CBI investigations, there is little chance of any party wanting her in. “For someone who can never win an election, she has played her cards well,” says a senior Congress leader.
“Her indictment by CBI is a foregone conclusion. BJP needs faces in TN and she thinks that making these false allegations will bring her closer to them,” he confides.
The BJP will be only too willing to see more revelations being made by her, as that will tarnish the reputation of heir apparent Rahul Gandhi while Modi tries to conquer the image of a clean politician in the eyes of the public. As of now, the dice appears heavily loaded against her, and the next few months could see more dirty linen being washed in public over this issue.