NEW DELHI: Former Congress MP Bhakta Charan Das has alleged that Jayanthi Natarajan wanted to reopen the Niyamgiri mining case settled in favour of a primitive tribal group and he had warned her that it would deal a death blow to the poor Dongria-Kondhs.
He said Rahul Gandhi's intervention with the former environment minister was to protect the impoverished tribals who were at the receiving end of "goonda" and police torture for years. "Rahul was not lobbying for the corporates or rich business. He adopted the right course by fighting for tribals. What was so inappropriate about it," he told TOI.
Das, a Congress secretary and known Kalahandi face, took Rahul to Niyamgiri hills in 2008 where the Congress heir apparent declared his support for tribals and assured them they would not be displaced.
A controversy broke out last week when Natarajan named Niyamgiri mining as an instance to allege at a press conference that Rahul used to send recommendations to the environment ministry, a charge that was picked up by the BJP government to argue that the Congress leader's whimsical moves had compromised economic growth.
Despite experts backing the agitating tribals, Das alleged Natarajan looked like having a different idea. "She apparently wanted to reopen the Niyamgiri file after it was almost decided. I spoke to her in Parliament's Central Hall and told her that tribals were agitating for years and any decision against them would set a wrong precedent. She just said she would look into it."
He said Rahul would not be deterred by motivated attacks like Natarajan's, adding, "His involvement with tribals and poor will be more intense in future."
According to Das, Niyamgiri was a sensitive issue where denial of mining licence should not be cited as an attempt to stall industrialization. "These are primitive tribals who number only 8,000 spread over 112 villages. They cannot survive outside forests. There was continuous agitation from 2003 to 2010. Almost 300 schools and colleges in Kalahandi held essay and debate competition to save Niyamgiri, there was economic blockade much before Rahul visited in 2008," he said.
Citing the salience of the case, Das said Niyamgiri became such a celebrated case that demonstrations were held in London. "The blockbuster movie 'Avatar' was based on the struggle of Dongrias," he said.