Scenes of an angry Mahua Moitra--the Trinamool Lok Sabha MP who is facing bribes-for-queries charges--storming out the Ethics Committee hearing Thursday (November 2) accompanied by some other Opposition MPs have been flashed across the country by TV channels.
Moitra, clad in a red saree and clutching three bags, was seen and heard shouting and alleging that she was asked “filthy questions” by BJP MP Vinod Sonkar, the chairman of the 14-member committee investigating charges against her.
Four other Opposition MPs in the panel also walked out in a show of solidarity with Moitra. Congress MP Uttam Kumar Reddy and BSP MP Danish Ali alleged that the questions posed to Moitra by Sonkar were “undignified and unethical”.
Sonkar, however, denied the allegations and, instead, accused Moitra of hurling foul and objectionable words at him. Sonkar also said that Moitra walked out of the hearing in order to avoid answering questions.
So what actually happened at the hearing?
Swarajya spoke to some of the MPs who were present at the hearing. Here is their version.
The hearing started with Moitra presenting her version of events.
Moitra argued that all MPs share their login IDs and passwords with their staff. She also argued that there was nothing wrong with that and her actions were not unethical, nor had they breached national security.
The Trinamool MP also contended that she should not be singled out and probes should be launched against all MPs to find out if they had shared their login IDs and passwords with others.
According to those present at the hearing, Moitra made a lot of irrelevant points and tried to obfuscate the issue by bringing in her “jilted ex” (Supreme Court lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai). She contended that the (Ethics Committee) hearing had been initiated due to motivated allegations levelled against her by a vengeful Dehadrai. Hence, she contended, the proceedings against her should be dropped.
After she made her lengthy submission, Sonkar started questioning her. He wanted to know the nature of her ties with Hiranandani and details of her foreign travels (that were reportedly funded by Hiranandani).
“The chairman posed the questions to her very respectfully. He asked her how many times she had gone abroad (including Dubai, where Hiranandani is based) in recent years, where she stayed and who funded her overseas trips,” a BJP MP who is a member of the panel told Swarajya.
That all these questions are relevant to the probe need no explanation. Moitra has been accused of taking favours--material and cash--from Hiranandani in return for asking questions pertaining to sectors where the Hiranandani Group had business interests.
The questions submitted by Moitra (to the Lok Sabha secretariat), say BJP MPs, were phrased in a very clever manner and their answers provided the Hiranandani Group a lot of vital information on the government’s plans and policies.
“That is why the questions that the panel chairman (Vinod Sonkar) started posing to Moitra were very relevant to the issue being investigated. He did not ask any personal questions. The entire line of questioning was to ascertain if there was a link between the questions posed by Moitra to the government as an MP and the ‘gifts’ she received from Hiranandani,” said the BJP MP who did not want to be named.
Hiranandani, in his affidavit to the Ethics Committee, had admitted that he had given Moitra sums of cash, financed her overseas travels, presented her with hugely expensive gifts and financed the renovation of her MP quarters in New Delhi.
“Cross-examining Moitra on the submissions made by Hiranandani is crucial in establishing a quid pro quo. All she needed to do was either deny or accept the revelations made by Hiranandani that he gave her money and gifts,” the MP said.
Another BJP MP, also a member of the panel, told Swarajya that as soon as Sonkar started asking those questions, Moitra flared up and said that the questions were personal in nature.
The MP said that Moitra raised her voice and started gesticulating angrily, accusing Sonkar of insulting her and trying to probe her personal life.
As if on cue, three other Opposition MPs--Uttam Kumar Reddy of the Congress, Giridhari Yadav of the JD(U) and Danish Ali of the BSP--jumped to Moitra’s defence and accused Sonkar of breaching propriety by insulting a woman parliamentarian’s dignity.
“It all seemed pre-planned. Moitra and the Opposition MPs who jumped to her defence knew that questions would be raised on her links with Hiranandani. It appeared that Moitra and the others had conspired that as soon as such questions were raised, they would create a ruckus and walk out in order to evade more questioning,” said the BJP MP.
And that is exactly what happened. “After establishing her links with Hiranandani, the next set of questions would have been about the ‘gifts’ she received from him. She would have been asked if the submissions made by Hiranandani in his affidavit about giving her gifts and funding her travels or the refurbishment of her house were true. She would then have been in a fix. Denying those charges would have been very difficult and admitting to them would have amounted to self-indictment on her part. So she (Moitra) was determined to derail the hearing on some pretext before those questions were posed to her,” the BJP MP told Swarajya.
Moitra then accused Sonkar of bias and prejudice, and said the entire proceedings against her amounted to witch-hunting. She then reportedly called Sonkar “behuda” (foolish) and “besharam” (shameless), gathered her papers and walked out of the meeting. The three other MPs, gesticulating wildly and angrily, followed her.
“It was a stage-managed show of outrage by Moitra and some other MPs in her support. There was absolutely nothing for her to get agitated about. No insulting or personal questions were posed to her. But she flew into a false rage and made nasty accusations, used foul language and staged a walkout,” the BJP MP added.
Another non-BJP MP who was present at the hearing endorsed this account of events. This MP, who spoke to Swarajya on condition that his name or that of his party would not be revealed, said: “We were all taken aback by the sudden turn of events. The chairman started posing questions very softly and in a respectful manner. But she suddenly lost her cool and started behaving very theatrically. She was never insulted and no personal questions were posed to her”.
But, said the BJP MPs, the stage-managed walkout and the display of “false and baseless outrage” would not save Moitra. “She will have to answer the important questions on all the gifts she received from Hiranandani. If she refuses to do so, the entire case against her will be decided ex parte. In the end, she will have to face the consequences of her wrongdoings,” said a BJP MP who is also a lawyer.
Legal experts say that while Moitra’s allegations about being asked personal and insulting questions may have been fodder for animated TV debates and discussions in political circles, she will, sooner rather than later, be held accountable for the charges against her.
She earned herself a respite Thursday, but it is only a very temporary and even a shor-tlived one.
An appeal from Swarajya
At Swarajya, we rely on our readers' support through subscriptions to sustain our media platform. Unlike larger conglomerates, we are unable to relentlessly chase advertising money — our model is largely built on your patronage.
Your support has never been more crucial. We work tirelessly to deliver 10-15 high-quality articles daily, ensuring you receive insightful content from 7 AM to 10 PM.
If you believe India's story has to be articulated in a way it has never been done before without shrugging it off, become a patron (or) subscribe now for ₹̶2̶4̶0̶0̶ ₹1999 and get 12 print issues, unlimited digital access for 1 year, a special India that is Bharat T-shirt (Offer ends soon).
We are counting on you!