Reaching into a man's world, to put them in their place

Trinamool MP Mohua Moitra may be beleaguered but remains unbowed, an example to all women contending against toxic masculinity in the workplace

Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra (photo: Getty Images)
Trinamool Congress Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra (photo: Getty Images)

Sujata Anandan

Some years ago, in the Maharashtra legislature — both in the Assembly and the Council — the finance minister (from the Indian National Congress) found that he had received more than the unusual quantum of letters requesting that taxes be relaxed on paan masala.

He began an internal probe — and was amused to discover that every last one of those MLAs belonged to the BJP and every last one of them had connections to Pune. Probing further, he lit upon the discovery that each one of them, in the past few months, had been publicly hosted by a particular manufacturer of a popular brand of said product category. 

After he had read out his budget speech in the Assembly, he startled the press gallery by saying wryly, “I was considering relaxing the taxes on paan masala. But then I was so snowed under by lobbyists for the brand from members in this House that I thought it more prudent not to do so, lest at a later date I be accused of bribery and corruption.”

He added, “You all know who you are and please don’t compel me further, lest I be tempted to reveal your names.”

Later, off the record, we did learn the names of these MLAs. It was quite illuminating how moralistic they acted, while not being beyond enabling a big manufacturer to get the government to do his bidding. Some of them went on to become well-recognised names in the Central government. I could never again look upon them as honest.

My years on the politics beat as a journalist have convinced me that almost every legislator in every political party seeks such gratification from business houses.

What’s more, politicians are even keen to do the bidding of commerce. So it is that lackeys of the kingpins of industry are seen hanging out constantly in the office of the secretary of legislature, compelling the staff to list their questions prominently in the book.

For while about a hundred questions might get picked out at random and printed in the questions booklet, it is never certain whether the solitary question hour will allow enough time for all but the first dozen or two to be asked and appropriately answered by the government.

I have also seen money blatantly exchange hands for the purpose. It is therefore quite naïve to presume that any but a very few legislators and parliamentarians don’t indulge in the practice. Which is why the more honest ones seek adjournment motions and raise ‘calling attention’ notices to get heard appropriately in the House. But even those two procedures are not beyond bribery.

That is why I find the fuss over Trinamool Congress MP Mohua Moitra asking questions on the Adani enterprises in the Lok Sabha beyond any reasonable enquiry. First, her written questions would have been part of the procedure of random selection by the Parliament secretariat.

Secondly, if anyone in the government did not want those questions asked, they would have been pushed to the bottom of the pile or not even listed at all. What’s more, why did the Speaker, so clearly a BJP man, even allow her to raise the ‘offending’ questions in the House in the first place?

I think, therefore, that accusing Moitra of bribery or corruption has two aspects to it. (1) It is an afterthought, a ham-fisted reactionary attempt to frighten her away. (We wonder why…) (2) There are gender ramifications at play, with the boorish, chauvinistic, macho BJP men believing women can be (must be?) controlled or cowed by public humiliation.

But I am glad to see that Mahua Moitra is a fighter and not giving up. In that, she is not unlike the Indian National Congress’ Rahul Gandhi, who was similarly put under considerable pressure by the BJP and came back fighting even harder every time.

Moitra seems intent on the same strategy, telling off Gautam Adani in no uncertain terms on a public forum, letting the browbeaters and machiavellians know that she is not giving up any which way.

However, what I find even more ridiculous is the allegation that she was paid nearly Rs 3 crore to ask those questions. Spread evenly between the 62 questions she is said to have asked over the past five years, a simple division would reveal still a ridiculous amount paid for every question.

Given the listing of the questions is inevitably random per the usual process, I do not believe any business entrepreneur would throw away that kind of money on what is at best a gamble of a proposition.

Then again, as Moitra is asking, where is the record of the supposed monetary transaction? Or, assuming the transfers were not digital but in cash or kind, then surely whoever is alleged to have bribed her needs to be probed for black money and tax evasion?

She has admitted to accepting one or two birthday gifts from someone she considered a friend, but surely there have to be purchase receipts somewhere in cyberspace for all the other presents ‘they’ claim he ‘gifted’ her?

This, then, is just the classic Goebbelsian attempt to repeat lies a hundred times, hoping some of it will stick and people will believe there is at least some truth to it.

But faced with the kind of fight that Mahua Moitra is putting up, demanding they dot every I and cross every T in their allegations, the BJP men are finding their usual misogynistic tactics woefully inadequate to the times.

Like everything else, their baying will fade away. What will be left behind will be the lasting public memory of a woman who responded to gender-based bullying with intelligence and gumption.

Moitra is an example to every woman similarly under siege by men in their workplace who think it is still a ‘man’s world’ and a woman must be made to know her place.

Instead, in the face of her renewed determination to keep asking those uncomfortable questions — for there is the scent of blood in the water, from their very desperation to make a dent in her reputation — it is the pack that are having to scramble to maintain their safety in the Adani scheme of things.

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