Jayanthi Natarajan, Accomplice Not Martyr

(Suhel Seth is Managing Partner of Counselage: India's only strategic brand advisory.)

So Jayanthi Natarajan has resigned from the Congress. For many in the Congress, this is betrayal by a woman who has herself proclaimed to have Congress blood run in her veins. Whereas I always thought it was the Gandhi blood that was in the veins of every Congress person. What is saddening is that for most she has become a martyr rather than an accomplice.

Jayanthi Natarajan ran one of the most critical ministries in the Government of India. As the presiding deity of the Ministry of Forests and Environment, she had the unique power of stopping projects ostensibly on the grounds of damage to the environment;  now it is apparent that more than damage to the environment, it was the damage caused to Rahul Gandhi's agenda which made her the obstructionist that she was widely known to be.

What is even more galling is that as a minister she took her oath of office owing allegiance to the constitution of India and not to some party functionary who was not even in the Cabinet. You can easily call Manmohan Singh a Prime Minister who was silent, but with these revelations it is clear that the Prime Minister was remote -controlled with the mute button often pressed.

Hence what the Congress did is reprehensible. They interfered with the progress that was easily within India's reach; they completely sidelined the Prime Minister; worst, they created an extra-constitutional authority in the form of Rahul Gandhi who acted on whim rather than through reasoned debate. Equally distressing is the role that they made the then Prime Minister play.

I am not in the least bit bothered as to what happens to the Congress, Natarajan or for that matter Rahul Gandhi. What I am concerned is by the silence of evil complicity that disallowed the kind of economic progress we deserved,  and the fact that no one in the Cabinet thought it important to flag this to the citizen at large.

What is surprising is that Natarajan has made this her affair. It is not about Jayanthi Natarajan. It is about India. It is about the functioning of the Government and what's more about not the collective responsibility, but the collective complicity of the Cabinet.

So will Jayanthi Natarajan quitting the Congress suffice? Should there be no legal action against her or for that matter against Rahul Gandhi? Should we not re-open the cases of those projects that were impacted by some whimsical person who had all the power but zero accountability? The political grandstanding apart, there are four critical questions that need to be addressed for the future:

1) Do we need greater transparency and objectivity in the manner in which environment clearances are sought and then given?

2) Would it be wiser to entrust this process of approval to a committee rather than a single individual only to bypass this whole area of individual subjectivity and / or an agenda that the person may be pursuing?

3) Do we need new laws or should tweak existing laws to ensure there is a course for redressal through our justice system?

4) What will be the interplay between the Centre and States in areas of environment clearances because it is apparent that while Rahul Gandhi wanted to benefit the tribals in Nyamgiri, he robbed the entire state of Odisha of its fair share of economic progress.

Neither Natarajan nor for that matter  can Jairam Ramesh answer these questions because they will debate their future in hindsight. But this present Government needs to act swiftly and with great firmness to restore investor confidence that India is a democracy and not a family-owned enterprise.

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