The Trinamool Congress MP says the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee was trying to publicly humiliate her.
The allegations of cash for queries against Mahua Moitra, Trinamool Lok Sabha MP from Krishnanagar, has created a huge storm in Indian politics over the past few weeks. Moitra, one of the most prominent and vocal critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and industrialist Gautam Adani, has also been accused by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of breach of national security policies by sharing her MP login details with prominent businessman Darshan Hiranandani—an entrepreneur who may be considered a rival of Adani in certain areas of business—to provide her with “information” to help her frame questions to “embarrass” the Union government by targeting the Adani Group.
Though Moitra has admitted that she had indeed shared her NIC (National Informatics Centre) portal login details with Hiranandani (a common enough occurrence, she claimed), she has vehemently denied accepting cash for any query she has raised in Parliament. In the meantime, Hiranandani, who has acknowledged that he shared a “close friendship” with Moitra, in a sworn affidavit claimed that she made “frequent demands” of him and kept asking for favours, which included “expensive luxury items, providing support on renovation of her officially allotted bungalow in Delhi, travel expenses, holidays, etc”. Moitra alleged that Hiranandani was forced to sign the affidavit “with a gun to his head” and has demanded to cross examine him.
The complainant on the matter was Jai Anant Dehadrai, a Supreme Court advocate and an ex-partner of Moitra’s, who is at present locked in a bitter custody battle with her over a pet. On November 2, Moitra appeared before the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee, but stormed out of the meeting along with five other non-BJP members of the Committee, claiming to be aggrieved and humiliated by the tone and nature of the questions that were being asked. According to Moitra, the Ethics Committee had nothing on her, so it was trying to publicly humiliate her.
“I am willing to answer all questions, but I am sorry, I will not allow myself to be subjected to such a public disrobing under a BJP whip,” she tells Frontline in an interview, where she speaks at length about the unfolding controversy and claimed that even in the past two weeks, while in the midst of the turmoil, she was approached via an intermediary to “sit quietly” for the next six months. Excerpts:
The entire country was looking towards the outcome of the Ethics Committee deliberations. Yet that was not to be, as you stormed out of the meeting, evidently very offended at the tone of the questions that were being asked. While the BJP says you got out because you were being cornered, you and the opposition MPs in the committee have alleged that boundaries of civility were being transgressed. Or was it another tactic to keep you from speaking?
First, it is important to remember that I was not the only one who stormed out of the meeting. There were 10 members plus the chairman present in the meeting, and five members, that is 50 per cent of the members, boycotted the meeting in protest against the chairman’s behaviour. Normally, after coming out of a committee meeting, no one talks to the press. For the first time the opposition members—two from the Congress, one from the CPI(M), one from the JD(U), and one from the BSP—went straight to the press and said that what was happening inside was like the disrobing of Draupadi, and that they did not want any part in this filthy, irrelevant line of questioning that was aimed just to humiliate and denigrate me. So it was not just me storming out.
This line of questioning was designed to make it a personal, invasive attack on me. The chairman (Vinod Sonkar) came with 12 pages of typed questions, which he was reading out. In fact, on occasions when I asked him about a particular question, he would go back to look at it because he did not know what it meant. That is how farcical it was. I might have been a witness there, but I am one of 78 women in the Lok Sabha, representing a country of 1.4 billion. So, I am not going to just sit there and allow such misogyny to continue. I am willing to answer all questions, but I am sorry I will not allow myself to be subjected to such public disrobing under a BJP whip.
They were not even letting me depose. It was only when the opposition members in the committee had pointed out that the complainant had also deposed, that they asked me to give my witness statement. In my witness statement, I had pointed out that the complainant had a personal acrimonious relationship with me, which he had not disclosed in the complaint.
One of the most important rules for an Ethics Committee complaint is that it cannot be false, frivolous, vexatious, and has to be made in good faith. The very nature of the complaint made it null and void, as the person who made it did not reveal that we had an acrimonious personal relationship; that I had filed a police complaint against him; and that we were in the middle of a very bad custody battle over a pet. He had used the office of an MP to follow up on this complaint: this MP had a personal vendetta against me, because I had called him out on his fake degree and his false declaration in his election affidavit. This MP went ahead and allowed himself to be a post office for the complainant.
In my personal statement I had to show that this was not a Supreme Court lawyer or a researcher who had made the complaint, but a person who had been in a personal acrimonious relationship with me. It should not have even gone to the Ethics Committee. If in the days to come the Parliamentary Standing Committee becomes a forum for personal scores to be settled, then where are we going to end up? This is typical of the BJP. I am clean, honest, transparent and vocal, so they are going to create a narrative, attacking me on my personal life. But they have picked the wrong person to bully.
As I have stated on national television that the line of questioning had nothing to do with the query whatsoever. It was a set-up right from the beginning. If they even had proof of one rupee (taken by me), they would have put me in jail and would not have bothered with the Ethics Committee. The fact is that they have absolutely nothing that they can use against me. It is a diversionary tactic. Anyone who speaks about the Adani-Modi nexus, and how Adani is being handed over the entire country’s infrastructure on a plate, is being targeted.
They have tried to shut me up. Mr Adani has reached out to me through two Lok Sabha MPs in the last three years, to sit across the table and talk. Even when this hatchet job was being done on me, in the last two weeks a message was sent to me via somebody else, that why don’t you just sit quietly for the next six months and everything will be sorted. We know where that came from, and we know what the BJP is trying to do.
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But Darshan Hiranandani, who, while admitting to being a close personal friend of yours, turned approver, and in his sworn affidavit said that you demanded “favours” from him, which he could “ill-afford” to refuse. He also said that he provided you with information so you could raise questions in the Parliament against Gautam Adani.
What the BJP did was a bad hatchet job. It got the complainant to put in his false complaint, and then they put a gun to Hiranandani’s head and asked him to file a corroborating affidavit but did not summon him before the committee. If he is not appearing before the committee, then how can he submit an affidavit? The affidavit itself is 12 paragraphs long, and the first 11 paragraphs talk about how ambitious and how domineering I am, and how great the Prime Minister is. Only paragraph 12 talks about the things in question.
There is no mention of cash. If he is an alleged bribe-giver, and he is accused of bribing a politician, it is a very serious charge. He should actually write down exactly what he has given me, on what date, of what value, and the invoices: there is nothing. Instead, he talks broadly of things like super luxury items, travel expenses—that could mean a bus ticket too. It’s utter nonsense and so I demanded to cross-examine him. Now the BJP was in a fix, because they realised that the complainant had already given a complaint without any documentary evidence. He came to the hearing empty-handed, without any proof. The only way the BJP thought it could get to me was through Hiranandani, but he has no proof, because he has never given me anything, apart from the things that I have mentioned before, which really do not count for anything.
I have demanded that I be allowed to cross examine Hiranandani, but now they don’t want me to. They first said, “No, he’s from outside.” But he has an Indian passport, and he has deposed before the Indian High Commission in Dubai. They are just scared to bring him, because he will not be able to provide any documentary evidence either. He is a citizen of India and accountable to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. He has allegedly given bribe to a member of the Indian Parliament. How can he not be called? Why should I not be allowed to cross examine him? That itself shows that this is a hatchet job. Let them put up a rule that no MP should even receive a birthday present from a friend once she is elected.
Hiranandani is a very smart man, and there is no way that he would write an affidavit like that. The very language in his affidavit, where it extols Narendra Modi, is like that of a government press release. This affidavit was written by the PMO, held before him with a gun to his head, and they forced him to sign it. How was a white paper version of this affidavit floating around in the media the night before? Is Hiranandani an idiot that he would write an affidavit on a white piece of paper and show it to the media and then go and notarise it the next day? They wanted to put pressure on me via the media that Darshan has turned approver. I had pointed out that just two days prior to the affidavit, Hiranandani had put out a denial on his website.
As for receiving information from him, I am perfectly within my rights to talk to any competitor of Adani to disclose the unfair trade practices going on. If Adani is buying up all the airports in India and the other bona fide bidders are not getting it, I have every right to talk to the latter to know how it is that he alone is getting them. Why should I not talk to anybody who has domain knowledge? It is a part of my job as a parliamentarian to do so.
G.V.K. Reddy owned the Mumbai Airport. They had a CBI and ED raid on him, and soon he had to sell it to Adani. Should I not talk to G.V.K. Reddy to find out what happened? And why Adani, who has no expertise in running airports, gets to buy Mumbai Airport? Are these not of national interest? The question to ask is: how is Adani buying everything? All this is being framed up because of my relentless questioning of Adani’s business.
“One of the most important rules for an Ethics Committee complaint is that it cannot be false, frivolous, vexatious, and has to be made in good faith. The very nature of the complaint made it null and void, as the person who made it did not reveal that we had an acrimonious personal relationship.”
Hiranandani has also claimed in his affidavit that you shared your email ID as Member of Parliament so that he could send you information. Are you supposed to do that?
That is absolutely incorrect. The email ID and password that the NIC gives us, was never shared with anybody. What was shared was the NIC portal login, and there is no rule about not sharing that. Through this, we can only put in questions and do travel reimbursement. At any given point in time 10 people in every MP’s office use it, because no MP types out his own question; most don’t even frame their own questions. I frame my own questions, and I just sought a typist’s assistance from Darshan’s office, as I have a remote constituency and cannot always access a computer. Moreover, the OTP would come to my phone, so that rules out any possibility of anyone putting out a question without my knowledge.
I have put in 61 questions, and only nine are on Adani. My questions have ranged from railway crossings in Krishnanagar to biodegradable waste in India, and most of the questions were typed from Darshan’s office. In fact, I am surprised there are only 47 logins from his office; there should be more. I do not understand why they are talking about secrecy here, because there was never any rule about not sharing NIC login. If that were the case, then every MP would be in breach of it. It is my question, and I am fully within my rights to ask anyone to type it in.
So, as I told you before, Darshan Hiranandani did not write the affidavit, the PMO did; and the people who were writing it did not even know of the nuance of the NIC.
The BJP’s claim that national security has been breached because I shared my NIC login is simply laughable. Has the Lok Sabha login portal got the key to the nuclear code of India? Or the Budget before it is tabled? They are talking about national security, and the Parliament does not know how much land we have conceded to the Chinese. Pegasus is being put on every opposition leader and certain journalists; Apple sends Opposition members messages that their phones are being hacked, and no one talks of national security there.
Adani Enterprises is owned by dodgy Foreign Portfolio Investors [FPIs], and it has been proved that there are Chinese and UAE nationals there. SEBI has gone on record saying that it does not know who these FPIs are. And Adani Enterprises is buying our ports and our airports with the Ministry of Home Affairs’ clearance. Is that not a case of national security?
“The BJP’s claim that national security has been breached because I shared my NIC login is simply laughable.”
You have pointed out the remarkable alacrity with which the Ethics Committee summoned you, while several other cases have been pending for a long time. Why this urgency?
I have the handbook of the Ethics Committee of 2019, and it clearly states that Ethics is not a legalistic or technical matter to be enforced. In 2019, it was said that the mandate of the Ethics Committee was to formulate a model code of conduct (MCC). From 2019 to 2023, it has not been able to formulate it, so there is no MCC that we can adhere to or break.
Second, the last time the Ethics Committee met was on July 27, 2021. It has not met in over two and a half years. Now, the Ethics Committee is part of the larger Privileges and Ethics branch. There are 18-20 pending cases, including one against BJP’s Ramesh Bidhuri for a hate speech he had made on the floor of the House, which was a much more serious matter. He was summoned on October 10 but he never turned up, saying he was campaigning in Rajasthan. I asked for an extension because of Durga Puja, and they didn’t give it to me. The design was to suspend me before the Winter Session, so I can shut up for the next two sessions, and not raise any more questions regarding Adani before the 2024 election.
What is the worst that the Ethics Committee can do to you if it finds you in violation of Parliamentary norms of conduct?
The maximum the Ethics Committee can do is to recommend a suspension. They cannot expel me. The Ethics Committee report is given to the Speaker, who then places it before the House and the House, which is a BJP majority, can vote with a show of hands to suspend me. They can only suspend someone for that session. But it makes no difference to me: I will continue to question Adani, and in May I will return to the Parliament with an even bigger margin from my constituency. Also, remember: my hearing is not complete.
Why has the Trinamool Congress been so silent for so long in your case, when all other prominent opposition parties have rallied round you?
Mamata Banerjee [West Bengal Chief Minister and party chairperson] has also gone on record day before yesterday [November 2] in support of me; [Trinamool Lok Sabha MP] Sudip Bandyopadhyay went on record supporting me yesterday, as have all the State Ministers.
For the last three days everybody has come out in support of me. In the beginning, they did not comment on the matter as it was my personal issue, and I am perfectly capable of looking after myself. My party is backing me 100 per cent.