Confessions Of A ‘Cog In The Wheel’: Jayanthi Natarajan’s Letter To Sonia Gandhi

Posted on February 2, 2015 in Environment, Politics

By Moumita Ghosh

“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” – wrote Jayanthi Natarajan, former Union Environment Minister to Congress chief, Sonia Gandhi in a letter dated November 5th, 2014. Two months later, Natarajan, a fourth generation Congress worker and a senior leader, announced her resignation from the primary membership of the party this Friday. The news comes a few months after former Union Shipping Minister GK Vasan left Congress to revive the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC) in Tamil Nadu.

Indian Minister of Environment and Fores

Spoiler-alert: Of Resignations and Washrooms
The letter, which has been dubbed as an ‘image-bachao abhiyaan‘ by Congress leader Singhvi and which is now available with the media, presents a dramatic depiction of the circumstances under which Natarajan’s stint as a minister came to an end, of which she writes- “the disaster which happened to me on the December 20, 2013, was a thunderbolt, which hit me from the blue and destroyed my life.” She was also later removed from the position of the party spokesperson in January 2014 despite having an efficient track-record for ten years straight. This was, she claims, after Sonia Gandhi’s instruction to her to refrain from speaking to the media about the former’s much controversial resignation. Natarajan recalls that she was “asked” to resign by the Congress president on account of her requirement for party work but it was merely a strategy, she adds, to exploit her as a scapegoat in order to project a pro-industry image of the party, thus presenting her as the- “focal point for the perceived failure of the economy at that time.” Tagging her orchestrated resignation as a “sentence of death”, she posed a simple question to Sonia Gandhi– “Surely you were aware that removing a Minister just one hundred days before Lok Sabha elections without any wrongdoing being even alleged against her, and on the contrary, the Prime Minister lauding my work in writing, would have devastating effects upon me, my career, everything I have worked for over 30 years, and above all the patriotic legacy of my family?” But perhaps, the most amusing part of the letter was the instance of how an important file during the UPA regime was later found in the “washroom of the computer section” for whichever reasons.

Green Laws During UPA Rule: Whimsical?
In what has been also dubbed as a “scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi” by the media on Friday, Natarajan mentioned about the Congress vice-president’s prompt interference in all her decisions during her tenure, including blockage of green clearances. Hence, it seemed rather ironical to her when Mr. Gandhi addressed the industry body FICCI with her resignation in the background, indirectly portraying her as the “bottleneck” for “unwarranted delays in major projects”. Baffled at her unforeseen removal from office and not having received a reason for it, coupled with generous media reports of her perceived incompetence as a minister despite adhering to pro-environment party decisions made at the “highest level”, Natarajan desperately sought for an appointment with Rahul Gandhi who conveniently evaded her requests at the pretext of “running a little busy”. While BJP opined on Saturday that –‘Decisions in the previous UPA governments were taken at the whims of the Gandhis’ and that the decisions by the Environment Ministry during UPA rule should be reviewed, there is no denying that the rejection of the environmental clearance to the billion-dollar open-cast mining project of the Vedanta Company in the Niyamgiri hill range during the UPA’s tenure was indeed laudable.

The “environmental rampage” only began with the appointment of Veerappa Moily, Natarajan’s successor, who was also amusingly enough, in charge of Petroleum and Natural Gas at that point of time. Such a move by the UPA seemed more like a desperate attempt to score well in the 2014 general elections, especially in the face of threat to its uninterrupted existence at the Centre by the bursting on the scene of BJP. What followed was a series of quick clearances of about 73 projects within 20 days of Moily’s assuming office which was accompanied with environmental hazards and prompt violations of both human and community forest rights. It is also quite hard to ignore that the minister’s fast-track stint featured the approval of the likes of the POSCO’s steel project in Orissa (presently stalled) which had in its backdrop, eight years of forced evictions and transit camps, local protests which met with police barricades and firings and potential threats to the unique biodiversity of the area: a backdrop which can be attempted to be summed up in these words- “The last time I felt safe was before POSCO came.” – uttered by C.G., a betel farmer who was injured in a police firing and whose brother was jailed as a result of resisting forced evictions for the POSCO-India project.(Source– The Price of Steel: Human Rights and Forced Evictions in the POSCO-India Project).

250 Days of NDA Rule:
Does the present scenario provide for some relief, you ask? Well, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who Natarajan was forced to “fiercely attack” by party directives on the snoopgate scandal, and the government that he heads, is not sensitive to environmental concerns either. The BJP-led NDA gave us a re-written set of environmental laws and recommendations by an appointed committee – both of which are more corporate friendly than environment-friendly, besides giving the green signal to the construction of the Dibang Dam in Arunachal Pradesh without any sort of public consultation, earlier this year. But before we point fingers at the government, let us ask ourselves: how often do we even bother with the environmental manifestos of the various political parties, if at all? While we were busy chanting “Ab ki baar, Modi sarkaar” this time, obviously attracted by the prospect of vikaas along the lines of the “Gujrat model”, I doubt whether any of us even bothered to find out about the environmental concerns in the same state which in any case, does not provide for a very pleasant picture.