Trinamul national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee on Thursday came out in support of Mahua Moitra before stressing that the Krishnanagar MP, accused of taking money from a businessman to ask questions in Parliament, was “competent enough to fight her own battles”.
The Trinamul heir apparent’s defence of Moitra came at least five hours before the Lok Sabha’s Ethics Committee adopted its draft report and recommended her expulsion from the House.
His comments marked the first time that someone from the Trinamul top brass — made up of Abhishek and his aunt Mamata Banerjee — had spoken on the cash-for-query controversy since it broke out on October 21.
“If someone wants to fight the government, questions the role of the government or that of the Adanis, efforts are made to expel that person from Parliament,” Abhishek said.
The Trinamul leadership’s long silence on the subject had prompted the question whether Moitra — the staunchest critic in Parliament of the Narendra Modi government and its alleged proximity to the Adani group — enjoyed her party’s support.
Sources in Trinamul said that Abhishek was waiting for the right moment to comment, and reports that the ethics panel had recommended Moitra’s expulsion had given him the opportunity to break his silence.
“I feel this step by the central government… and what I read of the ethics committee report, they have said an investigation should happen against her,” Abhishek said, speaking after the Enforcement Directorate had questioned him at its Salt Lake office in connection with the bribe-for-jobs scandal in Bengal.
“If you do not have anything against Mahua, and it is the subject of investigation, why has an expulsion been recommended? I feel Mahua is competent enough to fight her own battles.”
Abhishek asked why the committee had been so prompt in taking up the issue while matters predating it had been kept in the freezer.
The Trinamul Number Two drew parallels between his plight and Moitra’s, saying: “They are victimising me for four years too, it is their standard practice.”
While Abhishek’s comments appeared to challenge the perception that Trinamul was not by Moitra’s side, some party insiders wondered why Mamata was still silent.
Sources close to the chief minister said there was no reason for her to comment yet as the matter had not yet reached its climax: the recommendation has to be tabled in Parliament on the first day it reconvenes.
Mamata is known to weigh all possible outcomes before expressing her stand on contentious matters.
Moita, however, has maintained that she has the blessings of Mamata, that the chief minister has been busy with bigger things, and that she is capable of fighting her own battles.
“The party is divided on Mahua.… Some feel she is a victim; others believe that she has been talking too much,” a Trinamul MP said.
The party has extensively discussed one fallout of the cash-for-query controversy — that it has deflected attention from Trinamul’s campaign against the Centre for depriving Bengal of its legitimate dues under the 100 days’ job scheme and the rural housing programme.
With Abhishek voicing support for Moitra, Trinamul’s spin doctors rushed to express the party’s position on the cash-for-query controversy.
“The technicalities of the allegations will be looked after by the MP.… It (the recommendation for Moitra’s expulsion) came out in the media even before their report was tabled. The entire affair is very unethical,” party spokesperson Shashi Panja said.
“Anyone commenting against the Prime Minister and his friends is being silenced; their voice is being stifled. The unfairness of the entire thing and the brazenness are shocking.”
Sources close to Moitra — who was busy attending political programmes in her constituency — said Abhishek’s comments had vindicated her stand that the party was with her.
“I repeat that parliamentary democracy in this country has been reduced to a farce,” Moitra said, adding that the committee’s report had been adopted in two minutes, without discussion.
“In my political programmes, I have been telling people how my questions on the links between the PM and the Adani group have scared them,” she said.
“The people of my constituency are cheering me and encouraging me to fight, and that’s the most important thing.”