'Cash for query': Mahua Moitra lobbed 62 questions at Parliament; only 9 related to Adani

The Ethics Committee's held a hearing with the Trinamool MP today in a bid to assess her culpability in allegedly accepting 'gifts' to ask pointed questions and for 47 remote log-ins from Dubai

All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra at Parliament House in 2019 (photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra at Parliament House in 2019 (photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

AJ Prabal

Mahua Moitra used unparliamentary words, alleged the chairman of the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee, Vinod Kumar Sonkar, against him and other members.

His comment came after the All-India Trinamool Congress MP as well as various Opposition members on the committee walked out, alleging that the chairman and BJP members were asking her undignified, demeaning and personal questions.

BJP member of the committee Aparajita Sarangi declined to elaborate on what transpired in the committee room, to which Moitra had been summoned for the Committee to record her statement and hear her answer to the allegations made by her former partner, Jai Anant Dehadrai, and a businessman friend based in Dubai, Darshan Hiranandani.

Sarangi did, however, "condemn" Moitra's "arrogance" and "undignified behaviour" and her conduct of banging her fist on the table in fits of anger.

Moitra was her usual fiery self, though she claimed while leaving the Lok Sabha that she felt humiliated and was seen to have tears in her eyes. She was still fuming, it seemed, at the "unethical" questions she was asked.

While the proceedings of the Ethics Committee are confidential, given the members' parliamentary privileges, political circles continue to speculate on the line of questioning of course.

The nature of her 'relationships' and her travels to Dubai were some of the areas that the questions apparently focused on.

Since Hiranandani’s affidavit makes no mention of the initial charge from Dehadrai—that she took a bribe of Rs 2.2 crore to ask questions about Gautam Adani, apparently in order to defame Prime Minister Narendra Modi—the charge appears to have fallen through.

The more serious charge against her is that she shared her parliamentary login credentials with Hiranandani in Dubai, who used them to key in the questions on her behalf, ostensibly because he was a competitor of Adani's.

Several newspapers reported on the morning of Thursday, 2 November, that Moitra’s user login and password were used from Dubai at least 47 times.

However, this last only seems to support Moitra’s contention that she had taken secretarial assistance from Hiranandani’s office in Dubai because her own staff were not very proficient in English.

In her defence, she said that every time a question is posted, the NIC portal generates an OTP that is sent to her registered mobile phone number. Therefore, there is no way a third person can have ‘directly’ asked questions without her knowledge.

In a letter she wrote to Sonkar on Wednesday, 1 November, Moitra pointedly said that the Ethics Committee had framed no rules on who could and could not access the portal.

She also claimed that since 2019, the Committee had formulated no code of conduct either. What's more, she wrote, the committee had not even met in the last two years. She was clearly insinuating that the committee was going out of its way to gun for her.

What strengthens her claim, though, is that there are 65 questions that she has asked in the Lok Sabha since 2019.

A Newslaundry report analysed the questions and found that the questions ranged from petroleum to agriculture, civil aviation to railways. The questions also covered as many as 28 union ministries and only nine of the questions related to the Adani group.

Newslaundry reported:

Six questions related to Adani were for the petroleum ministry, and one each for the finance, civil aviation and coal ministries. Five of these questions were focused on Adani’s controversial Dhamra Liquefied Natural Gas terminal on the Odisha coast. The remaining four were about the Adani-owned Gangavaram Port in Andhra Pradesh, the reallocation of the Parsa East and Kente basin mines, Adani’s foreign portfolio investments and the handing over of six airports to Adani.

Darshan Hiranandani surely could not have had a personal interest in all the 65 questions. He may not have enough breadth of interests to cover all the 28 ministries that drew Moitra’s attention either.

While there is evidently much sympathy and support for Moitra on social media, the explanation that a former vice president of J.P. Morgan and Chase posted in London needed secretarial assistance to key in her questions has been unconvincing.

There are many takers, however, for her contention that several BJP MPs do not know how to operate computers and that many of them are not even aware of the questions being asked in their name

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