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Mahua Moitra Lok Sabha Expulsion: Why the BJP Gains Nothing From the Move

Being seen as a woman who has been vengefully targeted by the BJP is only likely to bolster Moitra's popularity.

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The outcome did not surprise anybody. The parliamentary committee on ethics that had probed the allegation of cash-for-questions against Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra had made it known last month that it had found her guilty as charged and had recommended her expulsion from the Lok Sabha. On 8 December, four days after Parliament opened for the winter session, she was duly expelled by a majority voice vote, carried by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) brute strength in the lower House.

It was a swift case of game, set and match.

Moitra was not given a chance to speak in Parliament. The ethics committee did not question industrialist Darshan Hiranandani, who claimed that she had taken favours from him allegedly for posing questions about controversial business magnate Gautam Adani. Nor did it allow her to cross-question him, which legal experts say, was her right under the circumstances.

Essentially, it based its case on the unproven allegations of two people — Hiranandani and Moitra’s ex-partner with whom she had a bitter falling out.

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Mahua Proven Guilty Before Investigation: A Case of Twisted Justice

Bizarrely, even though the ethics panel acknowledged that it did not have the ability to investigate and expose the so-called money trail, it pronounced her guilty of the crime. (It went on to recommend that a competent government agency do the job of investigating the matter.)

In other words, this is a case where the investigation will happen after the accused has been damned, which is an utterly brazen distortion of the universally accepted norm of dispensing justice.
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The other charge against Moitra was that she had shared her login and password to the Parliament portal with Hiranandani. This too was deemed unethical — a threat to national security, in fact — although there is no rule in the book that prohibits such action, and although MPs routinely share their login and password with others who help them upload questions.

After her expulsion, Moitra stood at the foot of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi outside Parliament, and, surrounded by party colleagues and leaders of the Opposition — Sonia Gandhi was right behind her — she delivered a fiery, almost Churchillesque speech, promising to fight the BJP in the "gutter” and in the "streets” until they were well and truly finished.

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A Rare Show of Opposition Unity

It was a powerful image of Opposition solidarity, of opponents of the BJP coming together to back a colleague who, they felt, had been subjected to a witch hunt and unjustly thrown out of Parliament. TMC supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who had hitherto said very little on the controversy around Moitra, also came out in unequivocal support of her.

What’s more, days after refusing to attend a meeting of the INDIA bloc, Mamata used the occasion to reiterate her commitment to the alliance. Which was good news for the Opposition front that had seemed somewhat battered after the Congress was whipped by the BJP in three out of four big state elections.

Moitra is unlikely to become a rallying point for the Opposition in the run-up to the general elections next year. But her summary expulsion from Parliament probably reminded Opposition leaders, if a reminder were needed, that it is now all too easy for institutions of the state to try and crush any individual who irks the powers-that-be and poses uncomfortable questions to it.
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Let us not forget the frantic haste with which Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was disqualified as an MP in March this year after a Surat court found him guilty of criminal defamation over the ‘Modi’ surname remark.

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Mahua’s Anti-Adani Campaign To Continue Unabated

Moitra has, of course, relentlessly questioned the allegedly murky business practices of Gautam Adani and his proximity to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Her firebrand speeches in Parliament and her pointed takedowns of the BJP-ruled government at the Centre on its various acts of commission and omission have earned her the reputation of an outspoken and fearless Parliamentarian. And the ire of the ruling dispensation.

To be sure, her expulsion prevents her from saying her say in Parliament, where members have immunity from court proceedings over their words. But that is unlikely to deter Moitra. As she made clear on Friday, she intends to continue to raise questions that are in public interest, be they related to Adani or to the government.

What then was the point of expelling her four or five months before the general elections, where she is likely to be voted back as an MP, perhaps with a bigger mandate? After all, being seen as a woman who has been vengefully targeted by the BJP, insulted, humiliated, and then unjustly ousted from Parliament, is only likely to bolster her popularity. No doubt, Mamata Banerjee also understands this and hence backed her fully on the day she was expelled.

Indeed, the optics of the entire exercise — the absurd logic of expelling Moitra based solely on the allegations of two private individuals, Hiranandani and her ex-partner, does not reflect well on the ruling party. (The login issue ought to have invited a warning, at best.)
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Yes, it will elicit the usual gleeful cheering from the BJP’s supporters on social media, but that is par for the course anyway. On the flip side, though, it gives the Opposition one more issue to bond over, and it does no good for the BJP’s image in Bengal, which may find another reason to not elect as many MPs from the party this time as it did in 2019.

However, power and hubris are often at odds with reason. Sometimes you want to squash an irritant simply because you can. It remains to be seen how long the people of this country remain enamoured with the exercise of power that seeks to stifle all opposition to itself and makes a mockery of due process.

(Shuma Raha is a journalist and author. She tweets @ShumaRaha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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