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Retrospective 'Jayanthi tax'

Author: Our Bureau
Publication:  The Telegraph
Date: January 31, 2015
URL:   http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150131/jsp/frontpage/story_10918.jsp#.VMwam9KUeSo

- Revolt brings Sonia model under gla

Coined by campaigner Narendra Modi, "Jayanthi tax" has now been adopted by the Congress. Of course, with the retrospective effect that had once tormented the UPA.

Jayanthi Natarajan, a former Union minister who was with Rajiv Gandhi when he was assassinated, today walked out of the Congress in a blazing huff after levelling direct charges against Rahul Gandhi and shovelling an insider's fuel into the debate whether the Nehru-Gandhis remote-controlled governance when the UPA was in power.

It also renewed focus on an allegation that the family claims credit when the going is smooth and blames others when it gets tough.

The gist of Jayanthi's allegations - made public through a letter to Sonia Gandhi in November last year and published in The Hindu today - was that she was forced to follow Rahul's directives while deciding on project clearances when she was minister of state (with independent charge) for environment and forests in UPA-II. But, Jayanthi suggested, she was made scapegoat for "slow environmental clearances" and was subsequently humiliated by the party when she had only followed the party line.

Neither Sonia nor Rahul gave her an audience to air her grievances, she said in the first public criticism of the Nehru-Gandhis from within since the Lok Sabha poll rout. So far, the articulation of frustration in the party has been confined to uncharitable remarks about Rahul.

Jayanthi's argument seemed that she had been inexplicably and conveniently hung out to dry by the Congress leadership, stirring memories of the manner in which K. Natwar Singh was cast out from the party and the government upon publication of the Volcker revelations in 2005.

But the Congress rushed post-haste to spill out reasons it has not bothered to make public thus far - that Jayanthi was sacrificed because she was on the take.

In the process of attempting to discredit Jayanthi, the Congress retrospectively owned up Modi's "Jayanthi tax" charge made during the election campaign.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: "It should be clear to all that the political party and the corporate interests on whose behalf she is talking today had coined the phrase 'Jayanthi tax' when she was a minister. The pretended ignorance on why she was removed is of no use. She was forced to hold the press conference today as pressure was exerted by the same persons, possibly because of the culpable material these persons have."

Former commerce minister Anand Sharma too confronted Natarajan, asking her to file a defamation suit against Modi for coining the phrase "Jayanthi tax" instead of attacking Rahul.

Sharma told The Telegraph: "Top industry leaders told me at a closed-door meeting in the presence of secretaries that files have to be taken to Chennai where one OSD would clear them. There were serious complaints against her."

Another minister claimed that over a hundred files had been recovered from Chennai after Jayanthi quit. (In October last year, the CBI had registered two preliminary enquiries in its probe in the alleged diversion of forest land for plants by a steel company.)

But on why the Congress did not proceed against Jayanthi then, Singhvi had only this to say: "She was removed from the ministry because there were complaints. At that time there may not have been sufficient actionable evidence but she was dropped and not given any assignment."

The Congress also cited a speech made by Rahul at a Ficci conference a day after Jayanthi had resigned on December 20, 2013. Jayanthi also cited the speech in her letter, which says "he (Rahul) made uncomplimentary references to delays in environmental clearances".

Rahul had said at the Ficci conference: "I am aware of the frustration with environmental clearances. Of course, many projects are still stuck - some for good reason and some for no good reason at all."

In the question-answer session that followed, Rahul said: "Environment is very important but we have to see industry doesn't suffer. Rent-seeking and blocking projects are wrong. The real issue is arbitrary power, the environment minister can't do what he wants. We have to create rules and structures."

Congress leaders now contend that by talking of "rent-seeking" and "blocking of projects", Rahul had clearly referred to the complaints against Jayanthi.

Then, as today, the former environment minister denied the "Jayanthi tax" allegation, now being readily endorsed by the Congress itself. "Let them prove that. I welcome any inquiry to prove that if I have committed any wrong. I have done my duty without any blemish. When my own party has treated me shabbily, why not Modi?" she asked.

'Grim' Manmohan

Jayanthi suggested that the then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was not on the same page with Sonia on some issues. "In fact, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared disturbed and looked grim when he passed on the information that the Congress president wanted me to resign to take up party work," Jayanthi said.

Rumours about differences of opinion between Prime Minister Singh and Sonia on appointments have persisted for long. In fact, many feel that the seeds of this week's removal of Sujatha Singh as foreign secretary were sown when Manmohan was forced to appoint her at Sonia's insistence even though his choice was S. Jaishankar, who has been appointed now by Modi.

Similarly, the Jayanthi controversy also renews attention on allegations that in the Congress, success has only one parent - the Nehru-Gandhis - and failure has many foot soldiers.

"The Congress party's obsession with giving the entire credit for the MGNREGA (the rural job scheme) to the Gandhi family reached a point where it may have actually embarrassed the family. When I tried to correct that impression, I found myself in a spot of trouble," writes Sanjaya Baru, Manmohan Singh's media adviser in UPA-I, in The Accidental Prime Minister.

Blame game

The penchant to pass the buck when the weather turns inclement was in evidence recently when the party conveyed an impression that it disapproved of Kapil Sibal's decision to represent the Mamata Banerjee government in the Supreme Court in a case related to the Saradha scandal. The Congress asked Sibal to take note of the sentiments of party workers in Bengal, which he has not done till this evening.

Taking all these factors into account, some are interpreting the attack as one targeted at the very concept of the Sonia "model of governance".

BJP lunges

The BJP was quick to seize on another yardage of dirty linen issuing from the UPA coffins. Three Union ministers, led by finance minister Arun Jaitley, picked on the spat to drive the knife deeper into the Congress leadership's style of functioning.

"When the whims of political leaders overtake legal requirements, this becomes a textbook case of crony capitalism and this is exactly what the UPA government was practising. The UPA was a practitioner of sadistic economics, it was vindictive in nature and was wanting to teach some a lesson and do a favour to others. This had to be for corrupt and collateral reasons and this is precisely why India suffered in the last few years of the UPA government," Jaitley said.

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar picked up Jaitley's cue and assured he would review those files where allegations of extraneous influence were mentioned. "Jayanthi Natarajan's revelations (in her letter) are a matter of great concern," he said.

Commerce minister Nirmala Sitharam iterated Javadekar's statement.

Jayanthi 'meeting'

While Jayanthi was non-committal about her political plans, a "meeting" she purportedly had with BJP president Amit Shah triggered speculation that she might be mulling over joining the BJP. Senior BJP sources denied there was a meeting.

It appears Shah might have spoken "fleetingly" with her at a reception, hosted by RSS ideologue and chartered accountant S. Gurumurthy in Chennai on January 18 after his daughter's marriage. Jayanthi and former Congress minister G.S. Vasan had attended the reception.

Jayanthi said in Chennai today she had not visited Delhi for the past 18 months so the speculation on a meeting in the national capital was ruled out.

'No democracy'

She pointed how she was even removed from the panel of spokespersons and all her attempts to meet Sonia and Rahul proved futile. "There is no democracy in my party and I feel suffocated. The Congress is not the same party that I had joined. The same values are not there any longer. It is with great anguish that I am resigning from the party of which I had been associated for more than three decades," said Jayanthi.

Cong theories

The Congress, on its part, seemed least embarrassed to admit Jayanthi was sacked on suspicion of corruption although the party was not ready to make a clean breast of it then. On the contrary, it sought to discover conspiracies elsewhere.

Singhvi said the timing of the development creates suspicion as the BJP was losing ground in Delhi ahead of the Assembly elections.

Many senior Congress leaders said Prime Minister Modi's "Rs 10 lakh-suit controversy had caught the people's fancy" and the BJP desperately wanted something to shift focus.

On the question of interference by Rahul, Singhvi said: "Any Congress worker, MLA or MP could have brought to the notice of ministers the feelings of the people or forwarded memorandums to them. What is the problem if the Congress wants its ministers to work as per the party's manifesto and philosophy? Did Natarajan want freedom to pursue the pro-rich, pro-corporate policy that her new political masters have brought?"

Congress leaders said four preliminary inquiries have been launched by the CBI against her and hence she was trying to please the BJP now.
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