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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 28 February 2024

Cash-for-query row: Expelled from Lok Sabha, Trinamul MP Mahua Moitra vows dogged fightback

'This Lok Sabha has presided over one of the most tenacious witch-hunts of one of 78 women MPs, a first-timer, a single woman with no political lineage'

J.P. Yadav New Delhi Published 09.12.23, 05:01 AM
Mahua Moitra, flanked by Congress MP Sonia Gandhi and other Opposition leaders, addresses the mediain New Delhi on Friday.

Mahua Moitra, flanked by Congress MP Sonia Gandhi and other Opposition leaders, addresses the mediain New Delhi on Friday. PTI picture

Trinamul Congress MP Mahua Moitra, who wouldn’t stop raising questions on the astonishing expansion of the Adani empire in the Narendra Modi years, was expelled from the Lok Sabha on Friday without being given a chance to speak.

The treasury used a report of the House Ethics Committee that had indicted her of "unethical conduct" and "contempt of the House" in a "cash-for-query" case to banish Mahua amid protests over the violation of "fundamental principles of natural justice" and a walkout by the united Opposition.

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"This Lok Sabha has presided over one of the most tenacious witch-hunts of one of 78 women MPs, a first-timer, a single woman with no political lineage…" a furious Mahua told reporters outside the gates of the new Parliament building. She compared her expulsion to a "hanging" by a "kangaroo court".

"What is important is that if this Modi government thought that by shutting me up they are going to do away with the Adani issue, let me tell you this that this kangaroo court has only shown to all of India that the haste and the abuse of due process demonstrates how important Adani is to you, and to what end you’ll go to harass a single woman MP into shutting her into submission," she said, asserting she would continue her fight in "the gutters and in the streets" to see "the end of the BJP".

Mahua — turned out in an off-white silk saree with thick blood-red borders --- had just taken the blow of the sword widely expected to fall on her; she was flushed with fury as she raged on against the Modi establishment. "You (BJP) hate minorities, you hate women, you detest naari shakti… I am 49 years old, I will fight you for the next 30 years, inside Parliament, outside Parliament, in the gutter, on the streets…We will see the end of you," she said, assured that the CBI will now be sent to hound her. She asked why the CBI-ED was not probing the coal scam and other charges against the Adani group. She also asked why no action had been taken against BJP member Ramesh Bidhuri for hurling flagrant communal slurs against BSP MP Danish Ali inside the House and iterated her resolve to fight.

Flanked by several Opposition MPs, and with Sonia Gandhi right behind her, Mahua ventured: “The Ethics Committee, which was set up to serve as a moral compass for members, has been abused today to do exactly what it was never meant to do -- which is to bulldoze the Opposition and become another weapon to 'thok do' us into submission.”

Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla had earlier set aside fervent appeals by Opposition leaders in the name of the principles of natural justice to allow Moitra to defend herself against the charges levelled at her. The Speaker used a past precedent, raised by the treasury bench, that in a similar case in 2005, the then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had not granted an opportunity to 10 MPs to speak in a cash-for-query case.

The Speaker took up the resolution recommending Moitra’s expulsion after the Opposition walked out in protest from the House. The resolution was moved by parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi and swiftly passed by a voice vote.

The Ethics Committee report held the Trinamul member guilty of “unethical conduct” because she had shared her parliamentary portal login credentials with others, and of “contempt of the House" because she allegedly accepted gifts from a businessman friend in exchange for favours.

Mahua has accepted sharing the portal login credentials with businessman-friend Darshan Hiranandani, but argued that it’s common practice among MPs. She has also spoken publicly about accepting the odd gift from him, but asserted they did not involve any quid pro quo, or compromise her integrity as an MP.

“The findings are based solely on the written testimonies of two private citizens (Hiranandani and her estranged partner Jai Anant Dehadrai) whose versions contradict each other in material terms, none of whom I was allowed to cross-examine…. The two testimonies have been used to hang me without getting into the root,” Mahua said, defending herself outside.

“There is no evidence of any cash, of any gifts anywhere. Recommendation of expulsion is solely based on (the fact) that I have shared my Lok Sabha login ID,” she said, underlining that it was routine practice among MPs.

The Opposition members walked out to stage a protest in front of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue on Parliament premises. Mahua walked to the protest spot with Sonia Gandhi. Expressing solidarity, Sonia said the Congress stood with the Trinamul members.

The report of the Ethics Committee was laid in the afternoon session and taken up for discussion and voting at 2pm. The Congress’s House leader, Adhir Chowdhury, urged the Speaker to give MPs 3-4 days’ time to read the nearly 500-page report and not have to decide hurriedly. He urged that Moitra be given an opportunity to speak, in line with the principles of natural justice.

His colleague Manish Tiwari stressed that the Ethics Committee had violated the “fundamental principles of natural justice” by not allowing the accused (Mahua) to defend herself properly and denying cross-examination of businessman Darshan Hiranandani, who had filed an adverse affidavit on Mahua.

“Can the procedure of the Ethics Committee override the fundamental principles of natural justice, which is the organising principle of every justice system in the world?” Tiwari asked.

Mahua had walked out of the Ethics Committee meeting during her examination, alleging that she had not been allowed to defend herself and asked unethical and filthy questions. The Ethics Committee also relied on an affidavit submitted by Hiranandani, levelling charges of Moitra taking favours from him and sharing her parliament login ID and password to post questions on her behalf. The committee did not entertain Moitra’s demand to summon Hiranandani for cross-examination.

“Whatever is going on (the charges against Mahua) is based on the affidavit of Darshan Hiranandani. Hiranandani was not brought to the committee as a witness…. No affidavit can be relied upon unless a person comes (before the committee) and says that this is my affidavit and whatever I have said is correct,” Trinamul’s Kalyan Banerjee submitted. He also stressed that Mahua was denied her right to cross-examine Hiranandani.

JDU member Giridhari Yadav, one of the 11 members of the Ethics Committee, told the House that he had vociferously demanded that Hiranandani be called before the committee to testify and be cross-examined but this was not entertained. He even accused the BJP members in the committee of not allowing Mahua to defend herself adequately.

BJP MP Heena Gavit, however, justified the move against Mahua, claiming that her “unethical conduct” had defamed all MPs and Parliament. “The report has found that her (Moitra’s) account had been logged 47 times from Dubai and 6 times from the UK, US and Nepal. The MP herself has acknowledged before the committee that she shared her parliament login ID and password with businessman Hiranandani,” Gavit said.

Gavit accused Mahua of having violated rules and said that of the 61 questions she had asked in Parliament, 50 were related to sectors Hiranandani deals in.

Ethics report

The report of the Ethics committee recommended that Mahua be “expelled” for “serious misdemeanours” and called for an “intense, legal, institutional inquiry by the Government of India in a time-bound manner” into the “money trail of cash transactions between Mahua Moitra and Darshan Hiranandani as a part of quid pro quo”. This indicates that Mahua could face investigations after losing her membership of the Lok Sabha.

The report flagged the “threat to national security” posed by Mahua’s actions because she had shared her Lok Sabha portal login credentials with others. “Transfer of login credentials to unauthorised elements could provide an opportunity to such elements to access the system leading to several potential hazards. First, given the threats the country is facing from State and non-State cyber actors, such leakage of credentials could render the system vulnerable to serious cyber-attacks and potentially disable the system entirely, thereby, crippling the functioning of the system that could impact National Security by creating false documents or fake narratives, etc,” the report said in conclusion.

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