Excerpts: Long on questioning, short on proof in Mahua Moitra cash-for-query case

Ethics Committee described her conduct as “heinous and criminal”, but then asks the government to get the proof.

ByV V P Sharma

Published Dec 10, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedDec 10, 2023 | 12:00 PM

Mahua Moitra

The Opposition says the expulsion of Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra from the Lok Sabha on Thursday, 8 December, is a mockery of parliamentary justice.

They insist the House Ethics Committee came up with no evidence to prove the cash-for-query allegation against her.

Constitutional experts assert the case falls under the Privileges Committee, not the Ethics Committee. They have questions about fair procedures the Ethics Committee allegedly failed to follow.

Moitra has been accused of taking bribes from businessman Darshan Hiranandani for asking questions in the Lok Sabha.

The complainants, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey and an advocate, JA Dehadrai, filed affidavits on the charges against Moitra, but failed to append any evidence.

Also Read: Which rule of the House did Mahua Moitra violate?

Govt should probe charges: Ethics Committee

The Ethics Committee also admitted its failure to prove the charges: In the same breath as recommending her expulsion, the committee asked the government to probe them.

The committee also concludes Moitra is guilty of sharing her login credentials but cites no House Rule to that effect. The committee, without further explanation, finds her conduct “objectionable, unethical, heinous and criminal”.

The BJP pooh-poohed the Opposition’s charges. However, the line of questioning the committee’s chairman, VK Sonkar, of the BJP, subjected Moitra to when she appeared before the committee threw up more questions than answers.

For the record, Mahua Moitra is a first-time MP from Krishnagar constituency in West Bengal. In 2019, she secured 6,14,872 votes to defeat her nearest BJP rival, Kalyan Chaubey, by a margin of 63,218 votes.

Here are select portions from the questioning of Moitra that runs into 88 pages in the 495-page report titled “Examination/investigation of alleged Unethical Conduct of Smt. Mahua Moitra, MP, with reference to the complaint dated 15 October 2023, given by Dr Nishikant Dubey, MP, against Smt. Mahua Moitra, MP, for alleged direct involvement in cash for query in Parliament”.

Also Read: Being hanged by a ‘Kangaroo Court’, says Mahua Moitra

Excerpts from the questioning

The committee chairman keeps asking Moitra about the gifts she received allegedly from businessman Hiranandani even though she had already clarified them.

Chairman Sonkar: Is it morally right for an MP to accept gifts from a businessman, any type of luxury gift, even if it is one gift or 500, or cash, expensive equipment, arrangement of the holiday, etc?

Moitra: …taking cash as a bribe is completely wrong and unethical. Then taking of a gift on a birthday, or taking of a gift of anything that comes in a normal personal relationship is completely legal and within the codes of an MP.

Chairman Sonkar: If any MP received such items then don’t you think that information should be given to concerned officials?

Moitra: I register my strong protest at this question because you are saying if somebody has received “Is prakaar”. What is “prakaar”?

Chairman Sonkar: Do you know Darshan Hiranandani? If yes, where does he live, and what does he do?

Moitra: I know Darshan Hiranandani. He is a close personal friend….He owns a very large business…real estate company…a respected businessman. He has ₹30,000 crore of business in the state of UP.

Chairman Sonkar: Is it true that on 20 October, 2023, on X, which was earlier on Twitter, you said in a press release that this gentleman is a dear friend?

Also Read: LS expels TMC MP Mahua Moitra amidst Opposition walkout

Why do you consider him a dear friend?

Moitra: That is correct. He is a dear friend. I stand by it. He is a dear, close personal friend.

Chairman Sonkar: Why do you consider him a dear friend?

Moitra: “Dear” is an English word which means close to somebody and who you are fond of. When I write a letter to you, I would say, “Dear Chairperson Sir,” which means I am close to you and fond of you. It is a sign of respect of closeness in the English language.

Chairman Sonkar: When did you first meet Mr Hiranandani?

Moitra: …I have known him much before I became an MP…

Read Also: Postpone Mahua Moitra hearing, says Uttam Reddy

What kind of friendship do you have with Hiranandani?

Chairman Sonkar: What kind of friendship do you have with Mr Hiranandani?

Moitra: I think that is a very cheap question….I take strong umbrage at that. As a citizen of India, I am well within my rights. It is my right to privacy as to what kind of friends I have. Having said that, I have no business dealings with Mr. Hiranandani, and he is a dear personal friend.

Chairman Sonkar: Do you know his wife, Neha Nandani? If yes, what kind of friendship is that?
Moitra: I take strong umbrage at this.

How many times have you met Hiranandani, and where?

Chairman Sonkar: How many times did you meet Hiranandani between 13 October 2023 and now? And where? And what did you talk about?

Moitra: I have complete freedom to speak to who I like. I may plead that I am completely allowed by the Constitution the freedom to speak to whomever I like. I have absolutely no compulsion within any committee, whether ethics or criminality, to have to disclose that.

Chairman Sonkar: What subject did you discuss?

Moitra: I have already said that I am not saying whether I have spoken or not. How can I speak on what it is? Sir, if the answer to the first question is no, you cannot ask the second question. The two are linked.

Chairman Somkar: What software do you use to talk to Mr. Hiranandani?

Moitra: It is not applicable. I can talk to Mr. Hiranandani any way I like.

Read Also: Mahua Moitra case: Ball in Speaker’s Court

You have no right to ask this question

Chairman Sonkar: Can you give me the dates (when Moitra went to Dubai)?

Moitra: There is no question of giving. When I have gone to Dubai on my personal business, on holidays, or whatever, it is no secret, but there is nothing to give the committee.

Chairman Sonkar: How many times have you gone abroad during 2019 and 2023? Please give dates.

Moitra: I wish to actually ask the committee under what rule they are asking me this question…However, it is completely out of the purview of the Ethics Committee’s investigation to ask me for my personal information unrelated to this investigation.

Moitra: ….You cannot ask anybody where I have gone and what I have done. You have no right to ask this question outside of a court jurisdiction…Please put it on record that this line of questioning is biased and prejudicial.

Chairman Sonkar: ….The issue is, you are repeatedly saying “Cheer haran”….etc., etc., but the way you (Moitra) “aap jinke saath teen saal rahin….”

Related: Experts say LS ethics panel head ‘overstepped bounds’

I will file a complaint against the Ethics Committee

Chairman Sonkar:…I am asking quickly, and you reply quickly. When you went to Dubai, where did you stay? You have to tell.

Moitra: This is absolutely no business of the Ethics Committee. Sir, I will file a complaint against the Ethics Committee and against you. I will file as a member of Parliament. I will file a complaint against the Ethics Committee that you are asking this question.

You cannot ask me certain questions. You cannot ask where I went, who I stayed with….I am not an uneducated/illiterate person here. I am not sitting here as a witness. Please understand this.

We are here to determine two things. Number one, whether I gave the login and password to Darshan Hiranandani, to which he had unauthorized access. I have already told you that since 2019, he has had a person in his office typing my questions.

The questions were mine but it was not unauthorised because it was my OTP. So, he did not have access.

‘Draupadi ka cheer haran’

Moitra: The second question is “What did he give you?” You tell me what proof you have or what he gave me. I do not have to disprove it….I am not going to sit here and answer the long list of what some ex-boyfriend has given you.

That is not the job of the Ethics Committee of the Parliament of India…..If there is proof that Darshan Hiranandani has given me X, you ask me in (sic) yes/no to a pointed question, and that is that. I cannot sit here and answer this “Draupadi ka cheer haran” as to where I have gone or who I have stayed with.

Chairman Sonkar: The allegations he made, I am only asking about those allegations….He said he has made arrangements, he has given gifts. It merits a question.

Moitra: Let us be factually correct. I have the affidavit in front of me. You can ask me.

Another argument ensured. Moitra’s contention was that the chairman should limit his questions to what is written in the affidavit. If the affidavit has specific details of her stay and dates, etc., then he asks her about it.

Chairman Sonkar: You tell me you did not stay in the hotel. You don’t lose anything by saying this.

Moitra: Why should I be subjected? No, you cannot subject me to that… I know the rules of the committee….I am not a deaf-mute witness…You cannot use this line of questioning.

Interview: How can they say that she violated rules in the absence of rule, asks former Lok Sabha secretary-general PDT Achary

I am giving you a final warning

Chairman Sonkar: What kind of courtesies did Hiranandani extend to you…

Moitra: Sir, I have already told you on record. You have asked me a question; let me answer…

Chairman Sonkar: I am giving you a final warning.

Moitra: You please warn. What will you do? Will you throw me out? Please throw me out.

Chairman Sonkar: You place your version. You have every opportunity.

Moitra:….I am picking up the affidavit and telling you that the affidavit has nothing specific….I will take no questions as to where I went, who I stayed with and what I did because that is not covered by the affidavit. So, you can sit here, and I will also sit here till three in the morning.

Chairman Sonkar: How many times did you talk to Mr Hiranandani? Can you get your mobile data and submit it to the committee?

Moitra: This is completely violative of my right to privacy. You have no right to ask me this question.

Moitra: I am going to boycott these proceedings. If my fellow women MPs do not look out for me today, you will never get a chance to look out for me.

Another argument ensues, and many members are heard saying they are staging a walkout.