So that is how the cookie crumbles. The Jayanthi Natarajan letter-bomb has yet again forced the beleaguered Congress Party on the back foot. Buffeted by open defiance and challenge by a number of state leaders soon after the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha election last year, several others held their nerve and chose to wait and watch. However, the failure of the party leadership to get its act together has only further disappointed the faithful. The party vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, shows no sign of growing up into a mature leader. And since the drift and dithering shows no sign of ending any time soon, more and more Congressmen and women feel obliged to jump what they think is a sinking ship. The latest to do so is Natarajan. A long-time Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist, her departure virtually marks the decimation of the Tamil Nadu Congress. Only nobodies people that body now. A significant Congress leader, G K Vasan, son of the late Congress stalwart, G K Moopanar, left the Congress soon after the May 2014 loss. He may be floating his own party. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, though without much following in Tamil Nadu, had virtually withdrawn from active politics when he decided not to contest the last general election. His son, Karti, contested his father’s Lok Sabha seat and lost his deposit, failing to poll even ten thousand odd votes. Last week, Karti Chidambaram was issued a show cause notice for criticising the party leadership, but he defied the State Congress leadership, saying that he would not reply to the notice. And on Friday, Natarajan put Rahul Gandhi in the dock, accusing him of virtually dictating to her when she was Environment Minister in the Manmohan Singh Government. In the letter written to Sonia Gandhi last November, Natarajan said the Congress Vice-President shifted from his doctrinaire pro-environment position to pro-corporate position on the eve of the last Lok Sabha election. In the process, she had to bear the brunt of his wild policy shifts, since he first dictated the denial of environmental clearances to a number of big-ticket projects and, later, tilted fully towards the corporatist viewpoint, asking her to grant project clearances in double quick time. She claimed she paid the price for his flip-flop, being dismissed from the ministry for no fault of hers. Worse, she alleged a media campaign was launched at the behest of people close to the Gandhi scion, accusing her of wrongdoing. She was maligned in the media though, she insists in her letter, she had done no wrong. The publication of the letter on Friday morning in a Chennai-centric newspaper was signal enough that Natarajan too had run out of patience waiting for Rahul Gandhi to show some leadership quality. A day later, she formally quit the party. Her next move was not clear, but the fact that she added most gratuitously that she was ordered by the Gandhis to attack Modi in the so-called `Snoopgate’ case, provided an inkling into her desire to make the BJP her next home. Given that the BJP is keen to bolster its presence in Tamil Nadu, it may welcome Natarajan, regardless of her vicious attack on Modi for his alleged role in the so-called Snoopgate scandal.
In any case, Modi has not allowed personal grudges to come in the way of his stated mission to consolidate the hold of the BJP and to inflict further blows against the Congress. He would only be happy to let in Natarajan into the BJP. But the Natarajan letter is bound to prove embarrassing for the Gandhis. That Rahul too dictated policy decisions to UPA ministers cannot burnish his image, especially when public records of the time duly bear out Natarajan’s claims. The lurch on environmental issues from one extreme to the other clearly damaged the growth process. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reputation stands further tarnished from the contents of the Natarajan letter, as he acted as a mere hatchet man for the Gandhis. Though no saint herself, Natarajan may well have driven another nail in the supine Congress, gasping for relevance after the stunning body blow last May.