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Jayanthi Natarajan quits Congress, attacks Rahul Gandhi

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 Chennai/New Delhi:  Senior Congress leader Jayanthi Natarajan, a onetime party spokesperson who was considered quite close to former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, Friday quit the party, sending shock waves through its political establishment. She accused the party leadership, particularly party vice president Rahul Gandhi, of letting her down, especially during her term as environment minister in the previous UPA government.

“I announce my resignation (from the party),” Natarajan said at a packed media conference in Chennai.

Congress leaders were quick to defend Rahul Gandhi and party chief Sonia Gandhi and said they did not interfere in the working of ministers.

Natarajan has joined people like G.K.Vasan and B.S. Gnanadesikan of the Tamil Nadu Congress to quit the party after saying they felt slighted by the party’s national leadership.

She said: “I feel that the time has come now for me to rethink my association because what happened in the recent past. The Congress is no longer the Congress that I joined.” She has been in the party for the last three decades and has been a four-time member of the Rajya Sabha.

Natarajan quit after writing a letter to Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Her letter took the party including the Tamil Nadu unit by surprise but it sought to put a brave face. “The party will not be weakened by her absence,” said Tamil Nadu Congress’s chief E.V.K.S. Elangovan.

Natarajan, who was asked to put in her papers Dec 20, 2013, by then prime minister Manmohan Singh, said: “(I) received several requests and representations from Rahul Gandhi’s office to ensure that the environment is protected.”

“And according to these instructions…I did my duty. I had these projects investigated and some of them I stopped,” she said and added that she got “specific inputs” from Rahul Gandhi’s office. Natarajan said she has sufficient proof of Rahul Gandhi’s specific requests on environmental clearance related to projects. “Let Rahul Gandhi refute it.”

It was however not clear why she waited so long to air her frustration and grievances, since she had stepped down from the government in December 2013 and it has been a good eight months since the general elections led to the fall of the Congress-led UPA government.

Congress leader and former union minister Veerappa Moily, however, said Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never interfered.

“…I have not come across any instance where the Congress president or vice-president interfered with administration,” Moily told reporters in Bangalore.

Congress leader Digvijaya Singh too said in Delhi: “…it is totally wrong that either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi ever interfered in the functioning of UPA government. Ministers were free to take decisions.”

Grand-daughter of former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. Bhaktavatsalam, Natarajan hails from a family of Congress veterans who were associated with the Indian National Congress since its inception in 1885.

Her great-grandfather was a member of India’s Constituent Assembly.

A Chennai-based lawyer, Natarajan entered politics as a Youth Congress worker in the 1980s. She was later noticed by the then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi. She went to the Rajya Sabha for the first time in 1986.

In a career that spans over 30 years, she has thrice been re-elected to the upper house of the parliament in 1992, 1997 and 2008.

Natarajan, who was frequently seen on television, was dropped as a Congress spokesperson in January 2014.

Natarajan said on becoming the environment minister, party president Sonia Gandhi had told her to maintain the Congress tradition of protecting the environment as was done by former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. She was considered close to Rajiv Gandhi and was one of those who was present at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated May 21, 1991.

Despite withstanding the “anger and wrath of all the colleagues who protested that economic progress was being blocked”, Natarajan said she was told to resign from the cabinet.

A visibly miffed Natarajan said: “After the Congress, I intend to think about my life and future.”

“I have absolutely no plan to join any party,” she said and added that no BJP leader has met her in this connection.

She welcomed a government probe into environmental clearances given by her and demanded that the probe should be transparent.

“I have to set the record straight to uphold the legacy of my family and my reputation. It has been a bitter experience for me for the past one-and-half years. My own party treated me badly,” she said.

“Why for a year everyone ruined my reputation and tarnished the legacy of my family,” she asked. “I only followed the rules. Did not break the rules.”

Charging the Congress of letting her down by allowing her name and her family’s name to be tarnished, Natarajan refuted that she had let down the party by not contesting in the recent Lok Sabha polls.

“I was not in a condition to contest the Lok Sabha polls when my name, reputation and my family’s legacy was being tarred,” Natarajan said.

Many senior Congress leaders from Tamil Nadu, including former finance minister P. Chidambaram, did not contest in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress party drew a blank in all the 39 seats in the state.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistani Anti-graft body wants travel ban on Nawaz Sharif, kin

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Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog has asked authorities to place ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on the Exit Control List to prevent them from leaving the country.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) sent a formal request to the ministry of interior. The interior ministry officials confirmed that the NAB wrote that names of Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and son-in-law Capt (retd) Muhammad Safdar should be put on the Exit Control List (ECL), which listed individuals not allowed to leave Pakistan.

The NAB argued that as the trial of the three nears its conclusion, it is feared that they would leave the country.

Earlier, a similar request to place name of finance minister Ishaq Dar on ECL was not accepted, allowing him to go to London and never return.

Sharif, 68, and his family this week filed an application with the accountability court seeking a fortnight’s exemption from personal appearance from February 19 onwards to let them go to London to see Sharif’s ailing wife. Three cases were filed against Sharif and his family last year, including Avenfield properties, Azizia & Hill Metal Establishment, and Flagship Investments.

Maryam and Safdar are accused only in Avenfield properties case. The NAB had filed two supplementary references against Sharif, his sons Hasan and Hussain regarding Al-Azizia Steel Mills & Hill Metal Establishment and Flagship Investment cases.

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SOUTH ASIA

Pakistan “breaches obligations’ on nuclear arms reduction, UN court told

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The Hague: Pakistan is violating its “obligations” to the international community by failing to reduce its nuclear arsenal, the Marshall Islands told the UN’s highest court on Tuesday.

The small Pacific Island nation is this week launching three unusual cases against India, Pakistan and Britain before the International Court of Justice.

Majuro wants to put a new spotlight on the global nuclear threat, its lawyers said yesterday, by using its own experience with massive US-led nuclear tests in the 1940s and 1950s.

“Pakistan is in breach of its obligations owed to the international community as a whole,” when it comes to reducing its nuclear stockpile, said Nicholas Grief, one of the island nation’s lawyers.

Islamabad and its nuclear-armed neighbour India “continue to engage in a quantitative build-up and a qualitative improvement” of their atomic stockpiles, added Tony deBrum, a Marshallese government minister.

DeBrum warned that even a “limited nuclear war” involving the two countries would “threaten the existence” of his island nation people.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

In 1998, the rival neighbours both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability.

The ICJ’s judges are holding hearings for the next week and a half to decide whether it is competent to hear the lawsuits brought against India and Pakistan — neither of which have signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

A third hearing against Britain — which has signed the NPT — scheduled to start on Wednesday will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.

The Marshalls initially sought to bring a case against nine countries it said possessed nuclear arms: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States.
Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons.

But the Hague-based ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule in disputes between states, has only admitted three cases against Britain, India and Pakistan, because they have accepted the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction.

Pakistan’s lawyers did not attend Tuesday’s hearings.

It did however file a counter-claim against Majuro’s allegations saying “the court has no jurisdiction to deal with the application” and insisting that the case is “not admissible”, said ICJ President Ronny Abraham.

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SOUTH ASIA

Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

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Bangladesh to drop Islam as official religion following attacks on Hindus

New Delhi: Bangladesh is likely to drop Islam as its official religion following a series of attacks on people from other faiths in the country. The country’s Supreme Court is hearing a plea challenging the status of the official religion of the country to Islam.

Bangladesh, which was declared a secular country after its formation in 1971, was declared an Islamic country following a constitutional amendment in 1988.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, the plea has challenged the declaration of Islam as the national religion of the country.

The move is being supported by leaders from the minority communities like Hindus, Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

Bangladesh has 90 per cent of Muslims, 8 per cent Hindus and remaining constitutes Christians and Muslim minority Shiites.

In last month, a Hindu priest was hacked to death following an attack on a temple in Panchgarh district. Two others were seriously injured in the attack. There have been several lethal attacks on writers and bloggers.

According to a report in the Independent, Islamist groups Jumatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh and Ansarullah Bangla Team are believed to have carried out at least seven attacks on foreign and minority people in Bangladesh in the past year.

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