Ex-MP quits Congress amid Rahul row

Jayanathi

A senior figure of India’s main opposition Congress has quit the party after making allegations against the party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Jayanthi Natarajan accused Mr Gandhi of “interfering” in her work when she was environment minister from 2011 to 2013.

It is not clear why Ms Natarajan’s decision came almost two years after she resigned her post.

Mr Gandhi is the heir of the powerful Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty that has dominated Indian politics for decades.

He has not reacted yet to Ms Natarajan’s allegations.

Ms Natarajan’s ministry was often blamed for holding up growth by refusing environmental permissions for major industrial projects.

She told reporters that she had received “requests from Rahul Gandhi forwarding complaints from NGOs [non-governmental organisations] about environmental deterioration because of large projects”.

“I was asked by Rahul Gandhi’s office to make sure environment was protected and to ensure large projects don’t cause tremendous havoc,” she said.

This, she said, had led to stalling of some “great investment projects” and many in the government were “not pleased with this”.

The projects include plans by mining group Vedanta to extract bauxite in the state of Orissa.

In 2010, the Congress government rejected the plans citing environmental concerns and rights of local tribes.

Ms Natarajan said she had to face the “anger and wrath” of her cabinet colleagues who “felt that economic progress was being blocked” because of her decisions.

Current Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has said the “revelations made by Ms Natarajan are of great concern” and that her complaints would be investigated.

In a letter written to Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi in November 2014 and leaked to The Hindu newspaper on Friday, Ms Natarajan said was asked to quit her portfolio by the party in December as her “services were needed for party work”.

In the letter, she alleged that Mr Gandhi’s office “planted stories” in the media that her resignation in 2013 “was not for party work”.

She also said she had become a “scapegoat” for the economic failures for the previous Congress government, and the “damage to my reputation has been complete and devastating”.

Correspondents say Ms Natarajan’s resignation is a setback to India’s main opposition party, which is still to recover from its worst ever election performance in May. Mr Gandhi had led the party into the election and managed its campaign.

The BJP swept to power as the Congress bore the brunt of voter unhappiness over a slowing economy, high inflation and a string of damaging corruption scandals.