Jayanthi letter: Time to break politician-activist nexus


The Jayanthi Natarajan affair has highlighted, among other things, the depravity and lethality of an unholy alliance, the alliance between the politician and the activist-intellectual (who tries to masquerade as an idealist); it is a sort of politician-intellectual complex (PIC). The PIC—though an informal coalition of unscrupulous politicians, doctrinaire activists, unreformed Leftists, Maoist sympathizers, and jholawallah busybodies—has proved to be the bane of the nation. Jayanthi’s outburst against the Congress leadership is likely to have serendipitous consequences because she was one of the key functionaries of the complex, and revelations made can dent the wicked nexus.

Let’s elaborate the concept of PIC. It is based on a symbiotic relationship: the intellectual keeps crying for expanding the role of the state for the sake of the poor, the farmer, the worker, etc.; the politician becomes the beneficiary because big state always helps him. As I wrote in an article in Business Standards two-and-a-half years ago, “The weapon of mass deception they [politicians and activists] use to devastating effect is argumentum ad hominem. Ad hominem is the form of argumentation in which the opponent-arguer rather than his argument is attacked. If somebody makes a case for, say, foreign direct investment (FDI) in a sector, the pros and cons of the case are not debated; the person promoting FDI is accused of working on some agenda. Therefore, the champions of economic reforms are maligned as stooges of big business, the skeptics of food security as anti-poor villains, the opponents of subsidies as heartless experts, the doubters about reservation as anti-Dalit, and so on. The ad hominem attack is so vicious and concerted that the person forgets the main issue and starts defending himself or herself.”

During 10 years of Sonia Gandhi rule, the National Advisory Council—yeah, such grand nomenclature was used for her coterie—became the governing body of the PIC. The evil genius of Sonia Gandhi ensured the empowerment of the PIC no end, thus setting off policy paralysis in the economic arena, confusion and chaos in the national security apparatus, and venality in governance. Jayanthi, an erstwhile Family loyalist, was cut out as environment minister to further the agenda of the PIC. She did her job with considerable efficiency—which in meant the ability to stop, stall, and delay projects. Something went wrong—nobody knows as yet what—which led to the recent dramatic turn of events.

But when Jayanthi was a favorite, the PIC ruled the roost. Any business house could be intimidated into coughing up bribes, thus pleasing the powers that be. Remember the Jayanthi tax? Concomitantly, the intellectual-activist, who is ideologically opposed to private enterprise, felt happy at the discomfiture of businessmen. It was a win-win proposition for everybody in the PIC. At least in its heyday, the time the United Progressive Alliance was in power.

In her letter to Sonia, Jayanthi has made not only the interference of Rahul Gandhi evident but also the political mileage the Congress wanted to derive from government action. “As Chairperson NAC, you have written several letters to me regarding projects in the Environment Ministry, and protection of tribal rights, and I have always kept you briefed that due care was being taken by me to protect the environment. I received specific requests [which used to be directives for us] from Shri Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honor those ‘requests’,” Jayanthi wrote (emphasis added).

She specifically mentioned how, in order to please Rahul and green terrorists, she torpedoed the Rs 30,000-crore Vedanta project at Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha: “Shri Rahul Gandhi went in person to Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha, and publicly declared to the Dongria Kondh tribals that he would be their ‘sipahi’ and would not allow their interests to suffer at the hands of mining giant Vedanta.” He could boast to soldier as the messiah of the poor, for he knew a family retainer would do his bidding.

He was right. As Jayanthi wrote, “His views in the matter were conveyed to me by his office, and I took great care to ensure that the interests of the tribals were protected and rejected environmental clearance to Vendanta despite tremendous pressure from my colleagues in cabinet, and huge criticism from industry for what was described as ‘stalling’ a Rs 30,000-crore investment from Vedanta.”

But rent-seeking and anti-business policies were not without consequences. Industrialization practically stopped in the country; and relentless pursuance of the PIC agenda proved fatal for the Congress: while business was exasperated, the people were fed up because of corruption, incompetence, and stalled development. The denouement was 2014 general election results, with the GOP getting the lowest ever seats.

The defeat of the Congress was a big blow to the PIC. The Jayanthi letter has further weakened it. But the PIC is down but not out. The Narendra Modi government should ensure that it does not resurrect.