Chennai: In a blow to Congress, former Environment minister Jayanathi Natarajan today quit the party and mounted a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi, claiming that she followed his directions on green nod to projects but was "vilified, humiliated and sidelined" by central leadership.
A longtime Congress loyalist, Natarajan said she was ready to face probe into environmental clearance accorded by her during her stint as minister in the UPA government and has no plans to join any other political party after "such bitter experiences".
"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 asserted at an hurriedly called press conference here.
Jayanthi Natarajan. File pic
Natrajan 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.
"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 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.
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.
"I intend to think on my life and future. I have no plans to join any other party," she declared when asked about her future political plans.
She said she had issues only with the party high command not with the Tamil Nadu unit. Natarajan said she has also quit as the trustee of the Tamil Nadu unit Congress. Ruing that she was not given a hearing by the top leadership after a flurry of media reports carrying "insinuation and innuendo" against her, the Congress leader downplayed the "Jayanthi Tax" barb from BJP's then Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi 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.
The Tamil Nadu leader made it clear that she has no problems with the state Congress unit.
"My issues are with the national high command. I was totally sidelined by the national high command," she said recounting that her repeated attempts to seek an audience with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi were unsuccessful and added that "even a murderer" gets a chance from the court to explain his position.
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".
Claiming that the main hardline view on the environmental issues was given by Rahul Gandhi that led her to hold back permission to a number of big investment projects, she said that she was "following only the party line".
She said that she stuck to the stand despite heated discussions in the Union Cabinet over the stand as many of her ministerial colleagues felt that those decision were blocking investment and thereby development.
"I had to face the anger and wrath of my colleagues, who felt that investment is being blocked...I fully followed the party line," she said, recalling that the Congress President also insisted on the need to protect forest rights.
Natarajan, who was a fourth generation Congress leader from her family, said that it was "extremely painful and very heartrending day" for her when things have to come to a position where she has to disassociate herself from the Congress party.
"I come from a family, which has Congress blood flowing in our veins....Congress blood runs in my vein," she said recalling her association with the party from Youth Congress days and making no bones about her being an "utter loyalist" of the Gandhi family.
She, however, significantly added "Congress is no longer the same Congress that I had joined".
Her remarks have come at a time when questions have been raised in the party over Rahul Gandhi's style of functioning ever since the worst-ever poll debacle of Congress in Lok Sabha elections. Recalling the chain of events that culminated into her resignation in 2013, she said that a "tense, grim" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told her that Congress President wanted her to resign as she was required for party work.
She later spoke to Sonia Gandhi on phone where she was told that she has to follow the directions, Natarajan said. Natarajan also said that the Prime Minister has even written a letter praising her work when she had resigned.
She, however, rued that later on there were stories planted in Delhi media from Rahul Gandhi's office that she was not to be drafted for party work and some time later was dropped as a party spokesperson.
Later replying to a question she said that she had "not used the word interfere" when asked whether the Congress leadership interfered in her work as Environment Minister.