Mahua expelled for ‘cash for questions’ scam

The Asian Age With Agency Inputs

India, Politics

Moitra alleged that the parliamentary panel was being weaponised by the government to force the Opposition into submission

TMC MP Mahua Moitra with other opposition leaders after being expelled by the Lok Sabha during the Winter session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. (PTI)

New Delhi/Kolkata: TMC MP Mahua Moitra on Friday was expelled from the Lok Sabha after the House adopted the report of its ethics committee that held her guilty of accepting gifts and illegal gratification from a businessman to further his interest. Hitting back at the ruling party after her expulsion, Ms Moitra said that there is no evidence of cash or gift and equated the action with hanging by a "kangaroo court".

Condemning the decision to expel Ms Moitra from the Lok Sabha, West Bengal chief minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee termed it a "betrayal" of the country's parliamentary democracy and extended party support to her.

After a debate over the panel report during which Ms Moitra was not allowed to speak, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi moved a motion to expel the TMC member for "unethical conduct", which was adopted by a voice vote.

Equating the action with hanging by a kangaroo court, Ms Moitra alleged that the parliamentary panel was being weaponised by the government to force the Opposition into submission.

Flanked by leaders of the Opposition bloc INDIA, including former Congress presidents Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who staged a walkout from the House, Ms Moitra read out a speech that she said was intended to be placed on the floor of the House.

She was not allowed to speak in the Lok Sabha during a discussion on the ethics committee report, citing precedents. "The 17th Lok Sabha has indeed been historic. It is the House that saw the passage of the women's reservation rescheduling bill, but it has presided over the most tenacious witch hunt of one of 78 women MPs, a first-timer, a single woman with no political lineage, from a far-flung constituency on the Bangladesh border," Ms Moitra said.

She said that the ethics committee report has broken every rule in the book. "In essence, you are finding me guilty of breaking a code of ethics that does not exist. The committee is punishing me for engaging in a practice that is routine, accepted and encouraged in the House," the TMC leader said.

She mentioned that the two testimonies that have been used to "hang" her
are polar opposites.

“The complainant says I accepted cash and consideration from a businessman to ask questions in furtherance of his commercial interests. But the businessman's suo motu affidavit says I pressured him to upload questions to further my agenda," she said.

Ms Moitra further said that the ethics panel did not go to the root of the issue and did not summon businessman Darshan Hiranandani, who made the allegations against her.

"The recommendation of expulsion is solely on the ground that I shared my Lok Sabha login credentials. There are no rules whatsoever to govern the sharing of logins. As the hearing of the ethics committee demonstrates, all of us MPs are conveyor belts to get questions from citizens, the public and to voice that in Parliament," Ms Moitra said.

The ethics committee report found Ms Moitra guilty of "unethical conduct" and contempt of the House by sharing her Lok Sabha credentials -- the user name and password of the Lok Sabha member's portal, with unauthorised persons, which had an irrepressible impact on national security.

The motion moved by Mr Joshi said that Ms Moitra's "conduct has further
been found to be unbecoming as a member of Parliament for accepting gifts and illegal gratification from a businessman to further his interest, which is a serious misdemeanour and highly deplorable conduct" on her part.

Mr Joshi urged the House to accept the recommendation and finding of the committee and "resolve that continuance of Ms Moitra as a member of the Lok Sabha is untenable and she be expelled from the membership of the Lok Sabha".

The TMC and the other Opposition members demanded that Ms Moitra be allowed to put her views in the House, which was turned down by Speaker Om Birla, citing past precedence.

Mr Birla observed that in 2005, the then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had, in a directive, disallowed 10 Lok Sabha members, who were involved in a "cash for questions" scam, to speak in the House.

Mr Joshi said that in 2005, then Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee had moved a motion to expel 10 members on the same day the report was introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Earlier, ethics committee chairman Vinod Kumar Sonkar tabled the first report of the committee on the complaint filed by BJP member Nishikant Dubey against Ms Moitra.

Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury urged the Speaker to postpone the debate on the ethics committee report on Ms Moitra to enable members to prepare for a discussion on it.

“The matter was urgent and important and the members should get sufficient time to prepare themselves as the report is over 100 pages and exhaustive,” Mr Chowdhury said.

The Speaker, however, has initiated a debate on the report and said if some strict decisions have to be taken, they have to be taken to uphold the dignity of the House.

Mr Birla said that it was painful that, at times, the House has to take up such matters. But, he said, it is because the dignity of the institution has to be maintained at any cost.

“It is the collective duty of the House to take steps to ensure the prestige of the institution remains unblemished," he said, adding that the House will discuss the report for half-an-hour but opposition members insisted that more time be given.

After the expulsion of Ms Moitra, the West Bengal chief minister said, “It is a disgrace to parliamentary democracy. We condemn the expulsion of Ms Moitra; the party stands firmly with her. Unable to defeat us in elections, the BJP has resorted to vendetta politics. Today marks a sad day and a betrayal of Indian parliamentary democracy.”

Ms Banerjee expressed disappointment that Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not intervene in the matter and extended gratitude to the INDIA alliance leaders for supporting Ms Moitra.