New Delhi: Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra has written to Parliament Ethics Committee chairperson and Bharatiya Janata Party MP Vinod Kumar Shonkar, asking why a “different approach” has been taken by the Privileges and Ethics directorate of the House towards her and the BJP MP Ramesh Bidhuri when it came to summoning them for questioning.
Bidhuri had used vicious anti-Muslim hate speech against fellow MP from Bahujan Samaj Party, Danish Ali, in parliament. In October, Bidhuri skipped the parliamentary panel meeting over this, citing “prior engagements.”
On October 26, as soon as the Ethics Committee chairperson told reporters that the Committee has decided to summon Moitra on October 31 in the cash-for-query complaint filed by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, the TMC MP had written to Shonkar seeking time till November 5.
She cited her engagement in her constituency due to the annual Durga Puja celebrations. However, setting aside her request, Shonkar asked her to present herself before the Ethics Committee on November 2.
In response, Moitra, this October 31, wrote to Shonkar highlighting the Bidhuri case and the contrast:
“In direct contrast, a very different approach has been adopted in the case of Ramesh Biduri, MP, BJP, who has a very serious complaint of hate speech (which was openly made on the floor of the House) pending against him in the Privileges and Ethics branch made by member of this same committee (Ethics Committee), Danish Ali. MP Biduri was summoned on October 10, 2023 to provide oral evidence and informed the (Privilege) Committee that he was away campaigning in Rajasthan and would not be attending.”
Underlining the fact that “no further date of his hearing has been given so far”, Moitra said, “I wish to place on record that these double standards reek of political motives and do little to enhance the credibility of the Privileges and Ethics branch.”
Since Ethics Committee deemed it fit to release my summons to the media I think it is important I too release my letter to the Committee before my “hearing” tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/A8MwFRsImk
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) November 1, 2023
In the letter, made public by Moitra on X (formerly Twitter) on November 1, she states that the chairperson himself had made public the developments from the first meeting of the Committee. Thus, she said, she has also sought to cross-examine the complainant and lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai since he provided no documentary evidence to back his allegations “in either the written complaint (to the Committee)” or in his “oral hearing” on October 26. Dehadrai claim is that businessman Darshan Hiranandani had bribed MP Moitra in lieu of posing written questions in parliament from her official account.
She has also suggested that Hiranandani be also summoned by the committee to depose before it considering he is the alleged “bribe-giver” who had submitted a “suo motu” affidavit to the committee “with scant details and no documentary evidence”. She sought her right to cross-examine both Hiranandani and Dehadrai and categorically stated that she wished to place this request on record.
In the letter, Moitra also pointed out that the Ethics Committee, like all other Parliamentary Committees, is not “the appropriate forum to examine allegations of alleged criminality” as it does not have criminal jurisdiction. “This can (only) be done by law enforcement agencies.”
This October 26, after the Ethics Committee formed by the Lok Sabha speaker to deal with Dubey’s complaint met for the first time, the chairperson had told reporters that it has sought help from the Ministry of Home Affairs to help it deal with Dubey and Dehadrai’s allegations. Moitra has asked for a copy of any report received by the Committee from any government department and stated that she be “allowed further to cross-examine the department concerned”, citing checks and balances “specially created by our nation’s founders to prevent even the slightest misuse of Committees by governments enjoying a brute majority in Parliament”.
She also highlighted that though the Introductory Guide to the Ethics Committee had warranted that a code of conduct be created for the MPs to follow, it has not been done yet, and that the Committee had not met even once in the last two years. “…in view of the lack of a structured Code of Conduct, it is all the more important that each case be dealt with in an objective and fair manner and there remains no room for political partisanship”.