CHENNAI: In a blow to Congress, senior leader Jayanthi Natarajan today quit the party as she mounted a scathing attack on Rahul Gandhi accusing him of interference in the Environment ministry during her stint and said she was ready to face a probe over green clearances granted by her.
A longtime Congress loyalist, Natarajan claimed that she followed Rahul's directions on green nod to projects but was "vilified, humiliated and sidelined" by central leadership. She also said she has no plans to join any other political party after "such bitter experiences".
"I have done no wrong. I am willing to be hanged or go to jail if any concrete proof of my wrongdoing is established," Natarajan said at a hurriedly called press conference here.
In this context, Natarajan downplayed the "Jayanthi Tax" barb from Narendra Modi during a poll campaign by the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate, saying that when her own party treated her so badly, how can she blame someone who was in Opposition. "If my own party treats me so badly. Why should I blame him? He was in opposition. If Modi is talking of Jayanthi tax, let them investigate.
"Let the CBI investigate. I welcome it. I look forward to it because it will give me an opportunity to explain my position," Natarajan said.
In a counter-attack on Natarajan, Congress raised questions on the timing of her resignation and said serious allegations of corruption were behind her removal from the then UPA govt.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters in Delhi that Natarajan was acting at the behest of her new "political masters" who may have got evidence against her.
The Congress also rallied behind Rahul, dismissing as "completely baseless" the allegations of his interference in the work of Environment Ministry and accused her of having "ulterior motives".
"I have only followed the party line and rule book on all environment issues. To protect the forest rights of people and the rights of tribals in cases like Vedanata. There was no wrong doing on my part," she said.
Natarajan said she cannot continue in the "suffocating atmosphere" in the party.
Virtually opening a can of worms, she accused Rahul Gandhi's office of planting stories to sully her reputation after she had resigned as Environment Minister on the direction of Sonia Gandhi. She resigned in May 2013.
"Specific inputs were received from the office of Rahul Gandhi based on the representation by NGOs raising environment concerns on certain large projects," she said suggesting that the Congress Vice-President had interfered in the decision making process.
"I was totally sidelined by the national high command," she said recounting that her repeated attempts to seek an audience with Sonia and Rahul were unsuccessful and added that "even a murderer" gets a chance from the court to explain his position.
She also said that as a minister in UPA-II, she did not want to attack Narendra Modi on snoopgate issue but was told that the party at the highest level wanted her to do so.
Natarajan said she has also quit as the trustee of the Tamil Nadu unit Congress.