Environment and Forest Minister Jayanthi Natarajan might like to protest that her departure has nothing to do with the stalled clearances for a large number of projects. And might want the people to believe that she has quit voluntarily to work for the party on the eve of a difficult parliamentary poll. The truth, however, is hard to hide. She has been virtually sacked because she was running the ministry the way two environment and forest ministers from the DMK had run it a few years ago. Let it be noted that the only one who ran the ministry differently from the three Tamil Nadu leaders in the UPA government was Jairam Ramesh. The latter might have sent tongues wagging, with his propensity to stay in forest lodges, but he thwarted project clearances en masse because he took a rigid view on environment issues on principled grounds, without factoring in concerns for growth and even equity. In the case of T R Baalu, A Raja and Natarajan, there were often extraneous factors at work which came in the way of hassle-free and fast clearances. Her exit clearly was forced by the nearness of the poll, with the Congress Party desperate to earn brownie points by sanctioning more and more stalled projects. According to one report, projects worth Rs 10 lakh crore were stuck, a vast majority of them in the critical infrastructure sector. Notably, even after expert panels had okayed many of these projects, the environment ministry chose to sit on them for reasons which were not hard to fathom. This was the exact modus operandi followed by both Baalu and Raja earlier. Significantly, even projects of key ministries and various public sector units suffered delays due to the lack of clearances by the environment ministry. After her ouster, Natarajan has claimed that only eight per cent of the projects came to her ministry, while ninety-two per cent were to be cleared at the state-level itself. Yet, most big projects were held up at the centre for want of environmental sanctions. This includes projects worth Rs. one lakh crore of the Gujarat Government alone. Clearly, the green ministry requires someone who is capable of taking a holistic view of both environment and growth and enjoys a deserved reputation for financial integrity. Ramesh lacked the former, while he possessed the latter in full measure. Following its rout in the recent Assembly elections, the Congress-led UPA Government might be keen to set things right, but given the proximity of the elections there is not enough time to undo the damage done by venal and inefficient ministers. Only a new government can set things right, though Natarajan’s going is unlikely to be lamented in any quarter. She is now free to devote herself full-time to defend her terrible record in the ministry as well as the party she belongs to on the national television, though her removal might have diminished her credibility further.
Modi in Mumbai
The rally addressed by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Mumbai on Sunday was, by all accounts, a grand success. It attracted a record crowd which lapped up every word Modi said from the over-crowded podium. The success of the rally clearly established the fact that the saffron party took the right decision by choosing him as its prime ministerial candidate. However, the fact that no other political leader from any party has been able to hold such large rallies in all four corners of the country underlines the general craving among the people for a change at the centre. Despite the noticeable decline in the media coverage of Modi in recent weeks, even as the ruling Congress Party works out its behind-the-scenes operation to shif the public focus away from him, Modi’s grip on the popular imagination continues as before. This should worry the Congress. Belatedly, the Congress has bestirred itself into action, but it seems to be a case of too little, too late. If the Congress were to respond to one significant message from the Mumbai rally, it would have to be about its inexplicable decision to grant amnesty to the Adarsh-tainted Ashok Chavan from prosecution. That single act knocks the bottom out of Rahul Gandhi’s tall claims about fighting corruption. Will he reconsider the decision to allow Chavan and three other former Maharashtra CMs to go scot-free? We have our doubts. It is just not part of the Congress culture. But no harm in asking, just in case better sense has dawned on the party leadership.