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Mahua May Be Controversy’s Favourite Child but Mamata’s Silence Isn't Golden

TMC’s responses to the charges against Mohua Moitra and the arrest of its minister have been evidently different.

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An upwardly mobile socialite to a grassroot politician from Bengal’s rural backyard and one of TMC Supremo Mamata Banerjee's most belligerent parliamentarians – Mahua Moitra's political portfolio has many feathers on its cap despite the fact that her journey of almost one and half decades is riddled with controversies and surprises.

However, the party she belongs to – The All India Trinamool Congress's stoic silence in Bengal in sharp contrast to the parliamentarian’s smart and somewhat vociferous attacks over the charges labeled against her in the latest cash-for-query case speaks volumes of the party's stand in the matter.

As Moitra gears up to face the parliament Ethics Committee (EC) on Thursday, 2 November, there is no ostensible display of support from the party high command matching the exuberance with which the parliamentarian herself has defended the case.

Mahua, however, has claimed to a section of the media that the party was 200 per cent behind her. In a byte to a local TV channel before leaving for Delhi she said, “I will come clean. The Ethics Committee will not be able to touch my hair.”

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Why Is TMC Cold-Shouldering Mahua?

Once a foot soldier of Rahul Gandhi’s Aam Admi Ki Sipahi in 2008, Moitra continues to display extreme aggression and confidence on her part and even managed to garner an alliance of political support from unexpected quarters like the Congress and the Left.

Unfortunately, though, the TMC high command in Kolkata seems unrelenting even as Moitra cleared the smoke screen by confirming that she would testify before the EC.

If the voices within are any indication, the party high command wanted the parliamentarian to appear before the Ethics Committee earlier and clear the clouds over a series of allegations which according to the party ’s top echelons are “grave in nature” and did border on “issues of ethics and parliamentarian propriety.”

Otherwise cautious, guarded, and strictly anonymous voices, one veteran party MP when asked about the unfolding episode and the party’s stand, said rather dispassionately, “Mahua has to settle the issue on her own and come clean.”

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Mahua’s Stance at Odds With Mamata’s Interests

Significantly, the Mahua Moitra controversy broke out almost simultaneously with the arrest of one of Mamata Banerjee’s most trusted ministers in the West Bengal cabinet last week on charges of siphoning off money from the public distribution system.

TMC’s responses to the two episodes – the charges against Mahua and the arrest of a TMC minister have been evidently different. Mahua Moitra was left to defend herself while orchestrated street protests and agitations marked the arrest of the TMC forest Minister – Jyotipriyo Mullick, now in custody.
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What might largely explain this dichotomy of the party leadership’s response is the fact that both Adani and Hiranandanis are potential and much sought-after investors in West Bengal’s industrial landscape with none other than Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee courting the two business tycoons for the state’s industrial rejuvenation. "Mahua’s sharp personal attacks often derailed the party’s delicate balance and were politically incorrect,” as one TMC MP put it.

In Bengal, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone ( APSEZ) has pledged a Rs 15,000 crore deep-sea port project in Tejpur, at the tourist destination of Digha. Statutory formalities towards commencing the work are in progress. The port project is one of the key infrastructure projects for the state’s industrial roadmap.

Similarly, the Hiranandani Group on the other hand, is committed to setting up a logistic hub and a hyperscale data centre park in West Bengal at an expected investment of ₹10,000 crore. The group signed an MoU with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation in 2021-22 to acquire a 100-acre of the Hindustan Motors company land at Uttarpara in Hooghly.

Having attended one of the Bengal Global Business Summits in Kolkata during this period, Darshan Hiranandani, Group CEO had described West Bengal as the gateway to the East and an ideal hub for logistics. He was also bullish about the states’ road, rail, and riverine connectivity.

For Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, therefore, it had been a tightrope walk when it came to attacking the business conglomerates of rival entities. Trinamool Congress parliamentarians say in confidence that Mahua had time and again been asked to tread cautiously on these "sensitive issues.”
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Where Does Moitra’s Political Future Stand?

However, the Trinamool Congress, Indian National Congress, and even the BJP party leaders are more or less reconciled to the fact the proceedings against Mahua are likely to end in recommendations of "stringent measures” to be taken by the Lok Sabha Speaker or the House Privilege Committee. Moitra herself has indicated that the proceedings might end in her suspension from the House for the upcoming winter session.

Whatever the outcome, Moitra’s political future remains unpredictable. Should the TMC party come down heavily on her, she has options left to switch over to the Congress from where she began her political journey and still has considerable support among the top brass.

Even the Trinamool Congress acknowledges her power of oratory and the need for such a charismatic, powerful voice in national politics. Finally, it is Moitra herself who will ultimately decide her political strategy that has guided her all these years.
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Path Paved With As Many Thorns As Roses

The former investment banker ventured into politics, joining a project that the Youth Congress chief had launched handpicking volunteers who would work at the grassroots. Muslim-majority Murshidabad district was Mohua’s area of operation during 2008-2009 where the old Congress party workers recall having seen her working intensely in rural interiors.

However, she reportedly did not get the support of one of the Congress heavyweights – the late Pranab Mukherjee who had tremendous clout in Bengal as well as in national politics. Mohua was denied a ticket in the polls. During this period, she attended a number of party programme with Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the LoP of Congress in the parliament now.

Mahua switched to the Trinamool Congress in 2010 and had a long gestation period in TMC before she was given a ticket in the Karimpur assembly seat in Nadia district in the 2016 state polls. She won it with a margin of about 16,000 votes. Her foray into the national arena was after she won the Krishnanagar parliament seat in Nadia district in 2018.

She worked hard among the Muslim minority in the constituency who comprised nearly 40 percent of the voters and clichéd a victory having defeated a CPI(M) adversary by a margin of over 63,000 votes.
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But the win did not come easily. She faced stiff internal bickering in the Trinamool Congress particularly in the Krishnanagar municipal core of the constituency. She was in her satirical best once again and after her victory, remarked: “Those TMC leaders who had taken selfies with me during the campaign did not vote for me in the town.”

There is one more battle coming her way. One would wait and watch how she fights and withers this one.

(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.)

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