When former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan claimed last week that she had been asked to look into “specific requests” by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, many were surprised by the timing of her move. Was it a tipoff of a forthcoming cbi investigation that prompted Natarajan to drag Rahul into the probe, or was it just a political move to build bridges with the BJP?
Ever since the rout of the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, many Congressmen from Tamil Nadu led by former Union minister GK Vasan have already been planning to dump the party. With an uncertain political future ahead for her, Natarajan’s plunge is being seen as more than just an exit from the Congress. She also seems to be holding out an olive branch to the BJP — a party she had so stridently attacked as a Congress spokesperson.
With cbi investigations set to begin soon into the environmental clearances to corporate houses, all ears are keen on what she can tell the CBI on the “interference” in her ministry. Is she willing to turn approver and help the CBI reach Rahul Gandhi’s office? Or, will she get the CBI probe some 70-odd clearances given by her successor Veerappa Moily?
Political circles in Tamil Nadu are busy figuring out the fallout of Natarajan’s move. Many feel that politics and positions have come without any struggle for the granddaughter of former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Bakthavatsalam. Her proximity to Rajiv Gandhi, and later Sonia Gandhi, had ensured that she entered the Rajya Sabha in 1986 and stayed there for four terms.
Her meteoric rise in the party had caused heartburn for several state Congress leaders, but none dared to oppose her openly as she enjoyed a strong backing of GK Moopanar — the man who split with the Congress, rebelling against the then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao in 1996 and went on to form the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). Jayanthi was made a minister of state for coal when the TMC allied with the United Front government.
When the TMC merged with the Congress after the death of Moopanar, it was proximity to Sonia that ensured Natarajan remained a power centre with links to 10 Janpath. She used her proximity to cut to size many state leaders. No wonder her exit brought a sense of relief to even the EVKS Elangovan, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee (TNCC) president, who commented that the party “has been cleansed”.
But the question is about what lies next for her. Many speculate that the aggression with which the BJP is hoping to play a pivotal role in Tamil Nadu politics could spring her on to the centre stage. A political analyst from the state said: “With just over a year to go for Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, the CBI could end up giving a clean chit to her, and maybe use her revelations to corner Rahul and Moily. The BJP could also use her to counter J Jayalalithaa among the educated sections in Chennai and other cities.”
Natarajan’s caste base (forward caste Mudaliar) could also play an important role. While she never had any mass support among the Congress cadre, her strong presence on television as a party spokesperson has made her a familiar face in the state. Many speculate that in case the BJP’s doors don’t open to her directly, she may return to join Vasan in the recently revived TMC of which she was a part earlier.
Not knowing what her next move could be, all other parties in Tamil Nadu have refrained from making any comment on her statements. The state unit of the BJP ended up dropping a hint by telling a Tamil news channel that she “will be an asset for any political party”.