Brinda Karat stands by Mahua Moitra, wonders why Modi was not investigated

Was there an inquiry against Narendra Modi for accepting a monogrammed suit worth Rs 10 lakh? Was he given a pass because he is a man, asks Brinda Karat

Brinda Karat (left) has asked if Mahua Moitra's being a woman had anything to do with her expulsion from the Lok Sabha (photo: National Herald archives)
Brinda Karat (left) has asked if Mahua Moitra's being a woman had anything to do with her expulsion from the Lok Sabha (photo: National Herald archives)

Shalini Sahay

Writing in the Indian Express on Saturday, CPM MP Brinda Karat questioned whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi was even more guilty than the just expelled Lok Sabha member Mahua Moitra. If accepting expensive gifts amounted to a breach of ethics and contempt of the house, she asks, why was there no inquiry against him?

Karat’s defence of Moitra is remarkable because in Bengal, the two are bitter political rivals. The CPM in the state opposes the Trinamool Congress (TMC) even more vehemently than it does the BJP. The defence also shows that Moitra’s expulsion has united the INDIA bloc partners to rally round the expelled MP.

Commentators had, of course, noticed former Congress president Sonia Gandhi standing by Moitra, and standing behind her in solidarity on Friday when the latter spoke to the media outside Parliament. What INDIA the bloc had not been able to achieve, quipped journalist Sagarika Ghose, had been achieved by the expulsion of Moitra. The summary expulsion has united the Opposition, because the partners realise that Moitra is just among the first few to be targeted among them.

In her article, Karat bluntly asks, "Much has been made of 'expensive' gifts she has received. Why the double standards? Was there ever an inquiry into the expensive gift worn by the Prime Minister — was the monogrammed pin-striped suit given by his 'friend', a wealthy diamond dealer less costly than the Hermes scarf or the make-up kit accepted by Moitra? In his case, there was no inquiry into a quid pro quo. Is it because he donated it to charity after the adverse comments it invoked? Or is it that Mahua is a woman and that she received a gift from a male?"

Karat makes the important point that male MPs, too, are known to receive gifts, but this rarely becomes an issue. What if the speaker started receiving complaints from ‘private citizens’, or dismissed house staff or personal assistants of MPs spilling the beans, alleging that the MPs received gifts from known or unknown sources? Would they end up as a public spectacle and in front of the Ethics Committee of the Lok Sabha?

The allegation of misogyny may not be misplaced, because the committee dealt with all the men concerned in Moitra's expulsion case with kid gloves. The two private citizens, Jai Anant Dehadrai and Darshan Hiranandani, were let off lightly. Dehadrai was questioned perfunctorily and Hiranandani was not examined at all. Even the complainant, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, was not asked to explain if he was settling scores with Moitra, who had alleged that his degree was fake.

The bias and Dubey's incoherent response to how sharing login credentials with a third party compromised national security, was not questioned, though Moitra was asked who she spoke to at night, which hotel in Dubai she stayed in, and with whom.

In his testimony, Dehadrai made the surprising admission that he did not know Hiranandani and had never met him. That did not prevent Moitra’s "jilted ex" (her words) from alleging that Moitra and Hiranandani had a ‘secretive relationship’. Nor did it prevent him from stating that he did not approve of the company that Moitra had cultivated. He did not shy away either from alleging that Moitra had received a sum of Rs 2 crore in cash from Hiranandani. Asked how he knew all this, his unconvincing reply was that he was in "close proximity" to Moitra and had 'overheard' conversations because Moitra’s earpiece was broken.

Hiranandani, again, was not examined or cross-questioned by the committee. His affidavit makes no mention of any cash payments to Moitra. It does say, however, that Moitra was a domineering woman who had forced him to give her expensive gifts. Why he was not summoned and asked to explain his relationship with Moitra is something that only the chairman and majority members of the Ethics Committee can answer.

Hiranandani had, the day after the allegation was made public by Dubey and Dehadrai, issued a press statement and dismissed the allegation as baseless and mischievous. The very next day, however, he made a U-turn and filed an affidavit at the Indian consulate in Dubai. Shouldn’t the committee have asked him to explain his U-turn? Was he let off because he happens to be a powerful industrialist or because he is a man?

Moitra had alleged that the PMO had "held a gun to Hiranandani's head" to sign the poorly drafted incriminating affidavit. He had business interests and was told that if he failed to sign the affidavit, his businesses would suffer and government contracts withdrawn, she had alleged. If the committee were serious, the least it could have done was to summon Hiranandani and ask him to answer questions.

So, it does appear as though the men got together to twist the knife in, and the Ethics Committee seemingly does go by the maxim of different strokes for different folks.

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