New Delhi: The first day of the House Ethics Committee meeting, called to look into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Nishikant Dubey’s complaint against Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra about allegedly accepting bribes to ask questions in parliament, saw a “vertical split” between the Opposition and the ruling party MPs on when to summon Moitra to depose before it. Eventually, the BJP had its way by dint of sheer numbers, The Wire has learnt.
Moitra should have been called ahead of the complainants according to several MPs who cited normal procedure to object to the latter being given time first.
According to an opposition MP, eleven of the 15 MPs who are members of the committee formed by speaker Om Birla earlier this month were present in Thursday’s meeting.
Ultimately, chairman and BJP MP Vinok Kumar Sonkar called for a vote in which the BJP MPs fell in line. There was a 5-5 split between the ruling party and the Opposition MPs and the chair got to cast the deciding vote.
Another stumbling block, once the opposition was overruled, was when Moitra should be given time. Eventually, the chairman’s decision to call her on October 31 prevailed.
“It wasn’t just the five opposition MPs present in the meeting who told the chairman to call Moitra after November 11 because of the ongoing festivities,” one MP present told The Wire. Five BJP MPs who were present there also initially said so. “But Sonkar was keen on summoning her as soon as possible… That’s how Moitra has been called on October 31; it is by dint of the numbers that the BJP had its way in the committee.”
Another committee member told this correspondent, “All Opposition MPs questioned the chairman for calling the complainant first and not the accused. The House Ethics Committee is also ruled by the same directorate as the Privilege Committee which summons the accused first to depose before it. In this case, in the first meeting itself, before the members could first assemble to understand the complaint, the chairman called the complainants, Dubey and the lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai.”
He said, “What was odd was also that the chairman began the meeting by complimenting Dehadrai as a very senior lawyer, etc. Such cordiality between the complainants and the chairman of the committee was striking.”
He added, “The chairman also read out everything from a paper. Since the proceedings of the meeting were going as per that written paper, it seemed to me that the course of the meeting was pre-decided. When an Opposition MP was asking some questions to the chairman, he also read out from that paper to say to him that such questioning would not be acceptable in the committee’s meeting.”
During cross-questioning, Dubey was pointedly asked about Moitra’s allegation that he had cited a fake MBA degree in his election nomination affidavit. The TMC MP, pointing it out to the Speaker, had asked recently if that is the case, should he not be disqualified from Parliament.
“Dubey didn’t clarify whether he had submitted a fake degree in his election nomination papers but only said that the Supreme Court didn’t entertain the allegation.”
Dubey had claimed earlier that Dehradrai has documents to prove that Moitra took bribes from businessman Darshan Hiranandani to pose questions in parliament. While Dehadrai was asked by most MPs about it, all he could say was, “It is all mentioned in the affidavit.”
An opposition MP told The Wire, “Dehradai spoke that line over a dozen times in the meeting. No documents were submitted as claimed by Dubey. It left us a bit confused because the affidavit doesn’t have those details but Dehradai kept insisting it is all in there.”
Some members also asked Dehadrai whether it was a personal fight with Moitra since it is all over social media that the real fight between the two was around a pet dog named Henry which Moitra refused to return to her ‘jilted ex’. If so, why should a parliamentary committee get into it? “He mumbled something but didn’t deny there was a fight over the dog,” said an MP present in the room.
An Opposition MP also asked Dehadrai why he mentioned in the affidavit that he never met Dubey earlier, while a video shot some time ago and circulating on social media showed him interacting with Dubey at a social function. According to two MPs, in his defence, he said, “[It was] Not [a] one-to-one meeting with him.”
Among Opposition members, Preneet Kaur of Congress, Hemant Godse of Shiv Sena and B. Vallabbhaneni of YSR Congress were absent from the meeting.
Moitra has outrightly denied Dubey’s allegations, while highlighting that it had come soon after she had questioned his ‘fake MBA degree’. The TMC MP has also been quite vocal in the Parliament and outside about Gautam Adani, the business tycoon seen close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. More details on the complaint can be read here.