Mahua Moitra invokes Mahabharata, lists questions asked by Vinod Sonkar
Moitra's party Trinamool Congress (TMC), which had until now maintained a studied silence on the controversy, came out in her support on Friday
Embattled Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra on Friday called Parliamentary Ethics Committee chairman Vinod Sonkar a "poor man" who could not ask a single question on his own pertaining to the allegations against her.
She clarified that the BJP members of the committee who were present at Thursday’s meeting were "fine", but it was the chairman who read out questions to her from a piece of paper. Questions which she said were "invasive and disgusting".
Speaking to multiple media channels on Friday, she listed out the "sordid" personal and "demeaning" questions put to her by Sonkar, a BJP MP from Kaushambi in Uttar Pradesh. They were, according to her, the following:
Who do you talk to at night?
How many times?
Could you provide your call details?
Have you been to a hotel with X?
Have you stayed there?
In the last five years, where else have you been?
You call so and so a dear friend. Does his wife (names her) know about it?
Moitra fumed while questioning the relevance of these questions to the twin allegations against her, namely, accepting cash and gifts to ask questions against the Adani Group and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament, and "endangering national security" by sharing her log-in password to the Lok Sabha’s Questions Portal with her businessman friend based in Dubai.
Sonkar, meanwhile, refused to confirm or deny asking the questions, pleading that proceedings of the committee were confidential. He, however, accused Moitra of dodging questions to evade scrutiny by the committee and insisted that the questions put to her were based on the complaint received from BJP MP Nishikant Dubey and the affidavit by Dubai-based businessman Darshan Hiranandani.
Moitra's party Trinamool Congress (TMC), which had until now maintained a studied silence on the controversy, came out in her support on Friday, with the party’s all-India spokesperson Dr Shashi Panja describing Thursday as a "black day".
Referring to Moitra’s invocation of Draupadi’s cheerharan or vastraharan (forced disrobing) episode from the epic Mahabharata, Panja accused BJP members of the committee of enjoying the demeaning exchange. While a woman was being literally disrobed and her character questioned, the chairman, like the patriarch Dhritarashtra, was blind to the analogy. Despite repeated warnings by Opposition members in the committee, the chairman did not desist, she added.
Moitra has garnered considerable support on social media, where several users were of the opinion that Parliamentary committee meetings should be recorded and livestreamed.
The Lok Sabha Ethics Committee comprises 15 members nominated annually by the speaker. The committee currently has 10 MPs from the BJP and five from the opposition. Not to be confused with the Privileges Committee, the Ethics Committee is generally understood to deal with lesser offences involving ethical questions, while the former deals with more serious breaches.
According to procedure, the committee submits its report to the speaker, who takes the views of the relevant house of Parliament into account before deciding on a course of action.
On Thursday, Moitra had written to both the speaker and to Sonkar, protesting against the humiliation she was allegedly subjected to. In her letter addressed to the speaker, she wrote, among other things:
"I write to you in great anguish today to update you on the unethical, sordid, and prejudiced behaviour meted out to me at the hearing of the Ethics Committee by the Chairman. I have been subjected to the proverbial 'vastraharan' by him in the presence of all members of the Committee.
"The committee ought to designate itself under a name other than the Ethics Committee as it has no ethics and morality left. Instead of asking questions pertinent to the subject, the Chairman exhibited a preconceived bias by maliciously and clearly in a defamatory way questioning me, so much so that 5 of the 11 members present walked out and boycotted the proceedings in protest at his shameful conduct," she said.