New Delhi: Trinamool Congress leader Mahua Moitra was expelled on Friday from the Lok Sabha after the House adopted the report of its Ethics Committee that held her guilty of accepting gifts and illegal gratification from a businessman to further his interest.
After a heated debate over the panel report during which Moitra was not allowed to speak, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi moved a motion to expel the Trinamool member for “unethical conduct”, which was adopted by a voice vote.
Reacting sharply to her expulsion, Moitra equated the action with hanging by a “kangaroo court” and alleged that a parliamentary panel was being weaponised by the government to force the opposition into submission.
She told reporters that she has been found guilty of breaching a code of ethics that does not exist and that there was no evidence of cash or gift given to her.
The Ethics Committee report found Moitra guilty of “unethical conduct” and contempt of the House by sharing her Lok Sabha credentials — User ID and Password of Lok Sabha Member’s Portal, with unauthorised persons which had an irrepressible impact on national security, Joshi said.
The Committee also recommended that in view of the “highly objectionable, unethical, heinous and criminal conduct” of Moitra, an intense, legal and institutional inquiry be initiated by the government in a time-bound manner.
The motion moved by Joshi said that Moitra’s “conduct has further been found to be unbecoming as an MP for accepting gifts and illegal gratification from a businessman to further his interest which is a serious misdemeanour and highly deplorable conduct” on her part.
Joshi urged the House to accept the recommendation and finding of the committee and “resolve that continuance of Moitra as member of Lok Sabha is untenable and she may be expelled from the membership of the Lok Sabha”.
Trinamool Congress and other opposition members demanded that Moitra be allowed to put her views in the House, which was turned down by Speaker Om Birla citing past precedence.
Birla observed that in 2005, the then Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had in a directive disallowed 10 Lok Sabha members, who were involved in a ‘cash for questions’ scam, to speak in the House.
Joshi also said in 2005 the then Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee had moved a motion to expel 10 members on the same day the report was introduced in the Lok Sabha.
Noting that it was a very “painful day” for the House as well as for him as its presiding officer, Birla said, “but at times we do face such difficult moments when this House has to take tough decisions to fulfill its duties to the House itself and the nation.”
Earlier, Ethics Committee Chairman Vinod Kumar Sonkar tabled the first report of the panel on the complaint filed by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey against Moitra.
In October, Dubey, based on a complaint by Supreme Court lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai, alleged that Moitra had asked questions in Lok Sabha in exchange for cash and gifts from businessman Darshan Hiranandani to attack industrialist Gautam Adani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In an affidavit to the Ethics Committee on October 19, Hiranandani claimed that Moitra provided him with her login ID and password for the Lok Sabha members’ website.
CBI has already filed a preliminary FIR in the case.
Denouncing Moitra’s expulsion from Lok Sabha, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it was a “murder of democracy”.
“It is a disgrace to parliamentary democracy. We condemn the expulsion of Mahua Moitra; the party stands firmly with her. Unable to defeat us in elections, the BJP has resorted to vendetta politics. Today marks a sad day and a betrayal of Indian parliamentary democracy,” Banerjee said during a press conference in Darjeeling.
The TMC chief accused the BJP of preventing Moitra from presenting her defense. “I condemn the way democracy has been murdered by not giving her an opportunity (to defend herself),” she added.
“I fail to comprehend how members can thoroughly review 500 pages within 30 minutes. How can all speakers reach a decision? I condemn the way democracy has been undermined. Despite having a two-thirds majority in the assembly, we refrain from expelling anyone arbitrarily,” she remarked.
Initiating the debate in Lok Sabha, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury sought more time to analyse the report, a suggestion that was turned down.
Chowdhury also wrote to Birla, saying that given “the seriousness and importance of the matter, I would request that members may be given sufficient time of three to four days at least to study the report and prepare themselves for the discussion in the House.”
Participating in the debate, Congress member Manish Tewari contended the report of the Ethics Committee was “fundamentally flawed” as it did not have the powers to recommend the expulsion of a member.
“The Congress member said the Ethics Committee at best can make recommendations and not decide whether a person was guilty or innocent. It is this House sitting as a jury which has the power to decide the quantum of punishment,” Tewari argued.
The Congress member said it was for the first time in his 31 years as a practicing lawyer that he was arguing in haste without reading the documents completely.
“Heavens would not have fallen if we were given 3-4 days to read the report and then discuss it as the matter is sensitive,”Tewari said and also insisted that Moitra be allowed to present her side.
JD(U) member Giridhari Yadav said he never wrote his Parliament questions as he does not even know how to operate a computer.
Yadav said his Parliament login id was with his personal assistant who prepared questions on his behalf.Yadav’s candid admission in the Lok Sabha drew a reprimand from the Speaker.
“A member can submit written questions to Parliament but can’t get questions drafted by someone else,” Birla said.
During the debate, BJP MP Heena Gavit said Moitra was asked questions by the ethics panel based on an affidavit, and no ‘cheer haran’ (outraging modesty) was done by asking personal questions.
Gavit said as per the report, Hiranandani has interests in five sectors — telecom, shipping, real estate, petroleum and pipeline.
“The member has asked 61 questions of which 50 pertain to these five sectors related to Mr Hiranandani. The report also states that her account was accessed from Dubai 47 times, six times UK, US and Nepal to upload the questions. The member had admitted before the Ethics Committee that she had shared the login id and password with Mr Hiranandani,” Gavit said.
“Such conduct sends a message that parliamentarians do not ask their questions, but do so at someone’s behest . If someone gives them money then they can raise questions in the House in a high-pitched voice,” the BJP member said.
Her party colleague Aparajita Sarangi, also a member of the LS’ Ethics Committee, said Moitra was given adequate time to present her side during the panel’s hearing but she “misbehaved, used unconstitutional words and walked out of the meeting.”
Earlier, the opposition leaders also accused the government of resorting to “vendetta politics”.