A meeting of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee, called to hear Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra’s defense against cash for query charges levelled against her by BJP MP Nishikant Dube, ended on a chaotic note on thursday. Ms. Moitra and other Opposition leaders stormed out of the meeting, accusing panel chairman and BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar of asking “undignified” questions about Ms. Moitra’s personal life.
Ms. Moitra is accused of sharing her Lok Sabha log-in and password with industrialist Darshan Hiranandani who is based out of Dubai in exchange of cash and other pecuniary benefits.
Hours after the meeting, Ms. Moitra lodged a complaint with Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla, where she said that she has been subjected to the proverbial “vastraharan” (disrobing) by committee chairman Mr. Sonkar. “The Chairman today insisted on following the most sordid line of questioning while reading from a script (no doubt prepared by some interested parties) in which he asked me detailed and extremely personal questions about my private life. He continued even after being warned multiple times by other members of the committee to refrain from this filthy line of questioning,” she said.
Her assertions in the letter were supported by the Opposition MPs, who speaking on the condition of anonymity said, Mr. Sonkar was repeatedly asked to refrain from asking questions that would tantamount to breach of her privacy. They also cautioned Mr. Sonkar from asking “very personal questions”, which they said was “undignified and demeaning” especially to a woman MP.
“The committee’s agenda was to probe TMC MP Mahua Moitra’s alleged unethical conduct. Instead of cooperating, Ms. Moitra, in a fit of anger, used abusive language against the committee. The Opposition MPs supported her and also levelled allegations against me. They walked out of the panel’s meeting to escape answering questions on Darshan Hiranandani’s allegations,” Vinod Sonkar told reporters.
The panel members spent first half an hour reading the report furnished by Ministry of Information and Technology which reveals that the Ms. Moitra’s Parliamentary account was accessed 47-times from Dubai.
“There was just one copy of the report so, we had to wait for our turn to come,” a member explained the reason for delay in calling Ms. Moira. The Opposition MPs also pointed out during the meeting that Parliamentarians share their log-in and password with their staff members or family member, who is assisting them. That alone can’t be the grounds for disqualification, considering there are no rules expressly prohibiting the members from sharing their Log-in details.
At around 11:30 p.m. ,Ms Moitra was called in to present her side of the story.
She spoke at length about her former partner Jai Anant Dehradai and also repeated the details which she has said in her recent media interviews. She conceded that she had shared her log-in details with Mr. Hiranandani, but insisted that there was no quid-pro-quo and that she did not get any cash from him.
Post-lunch, the meeting reconvened to counter question Ms. Moitra. The deliberations took a turn for the worse, at this point. The Opposition members felt that the Chairman was asking “very personal questions” that constitute breach of her privacy and are “undignified and demeaning”. “We decided to walk out, after our repeated requests went unheeded,” a member said. The angry members walked out of the meeting.
BJP MP Mr. Dubey said that Ms. Moitra is trying to set a wrong narrative and that she has violated a host of rules, including publicly sharing the details of the Parliamentary Panel proceedings which are confidential. “She couldn’t handle the fact that a Dalit was a chairperson of the Ethics committee,” he said.