“I am not bothered at all ,” said Mahua Moitra, speaking to The Quint, in her initial response to reports of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) moving in to register a preliminary probe against her.
The controversy surrounding the Trinamool Congress MP is likely to scale new heights this week but she seems to be undaunted.
“CBI inquiry on what? On bogus charges? This is absolutely crazy. The whole nation is being fooled,” Moitra thundered. “I am just waiting to see how things emerge 4 December onwards."
That is the day the winter session of Parliament commences and continues till the 22nd of the month, having about 15 sittings in 19 days (according to the Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi).
Last weekend, Moitra was busy watching a local football match in Krishnanagar, listening to grievances of voters in her constituency, meeting party leaders in small groups, neutralising factionalism, and working out her battle strategy.
What Could Be the Action Taken Against Mahua Moitra?
The move to rope in the CBI coincides with the Lok Sabha's winter session beginning on 4 December.
This is also the time when the Speaker of the Parliament, acting on the recommendations of the House Ethics Committee, is likely to announce action against Moitra for her alleged role in the cash-for-query controversy.
The tangible moves so far indicate that the involvement of the CBI in the alleged episode takes the controversy out of the realm of a mere “constitutional or parliamentary impropriety to a matter of criminal offence,” as per the ruling party’s scheme of things.
The punishment, therefore, in this case, may not be limited to expulsion and might stretch to a more stringent measure of disqualification for the TMC parliamentarian, according to party insiders, independent observers, and legal experts.
Ultimately, judicial redress is what informed circles predict for Moitra.
'Where is the Money?'
Moitra's battle strategy now is to seek a popular mandate in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.
Ever since she walked out of the Ethics Committee hearing, having complained about alleged attempts at her Vastraharan, she has been moving methodically to secure her voters in the Krishnanagar Lok Sabha constituency that she presently represents.
At the core of her strategy is the pragmatic realisation that what will matter in the end is a popular mandate and winning the 2024 elections to return to the House.
Moitra asserted that she had done nothing wrong by sharing her Parliament login ID and password. Describing the likes of Nishikant Dubey, the BJP MP from Jharkhand and some others who had been gunning against her, as "mental cases,” she rubbished all allegations against her.
"Let the Ethics Committee publish the entire list of MPs and their log-in history. You will find wives and kids using those access facilities. And charges about the money, where is the money?," reiterated the MP.
Mamata’s Stand for Mahua
As the dramatic developments reach a climax, Moitra is not taking a breather.
On the contrary, she is being egged on by a morale booster from the party supremo and her mentor – West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
After weeks of stoic silence, Mamata Banerjee observed, “The BJP is planning to expel Mahua. It would be absolutely foolish on their part to do so. She will become more popular and come out with a bigger victory in just three months. Besides, what Mahua had been saying in the House till now, will be said more fiercely from the outside,” said Mamata.
In addition, Didi, in a fresh move, as part of a larger organisational reshuffle, entrusted Moitra with the role of the president of the Krishnanagar organisational district. The latter was removed from this post in 2021 following intense factional fights.
Moitra seems to have moved far away from a situation in which her own party colleagues and bigwigs were of the opinion that she had to fight her own battle and come clean. The days of those mixed signals from within the party are over.
Adani's Absence In Bengal Business Summit
There are other significant fallouts of the Mahua-BJP standoff.
The Adani Group and the Hiranandani Group – regular attendees to the Bengal Global Business Summit and big stakeholders in the state’s industrial resurgence, were conspicuously absent this time (the 2023 summit was held on 21 and 22 November).
More shocking was an announcement at the inaugural session of the BGBS, when the Bengal CM invited corporate heads present at the summit to participate in fresh bids for an infrastructure project called the "Tajpur deep sea port".
This was a project which the Adani Group had been allotted earlier.
There is an ambiguity over the current status of the project. While the West Bengal Minister for Industries, Commerce, and Enterprises has said that the project is very much on track, the BJP's state unit has claimed otherwise.
So, the debate on whether the Mahua effect derailed the finely balanced equation between business conglomerates and the Bengal government, has intensified.
With Parliament set to commence soon, the contours of a fierce fight look imminent.
(The writer is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)