Opposition members of the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee on Thursday stormed out of its meeting along with TMC MP Mahua Moitra as they accused its chairperson Vinod Kumar Sonkar of asking her “indecent personal” questions, a charge he said was motivated to shield the parliamentarian from queries into her “unethical conduct”.
Moitra, who pleaded innocence to bribery allegations, termed Sonkar’s questions to her “filthy” following the walkout while he defended the queries, saying they were related to businessman Darshan Hiranandani’s affidavit in which he admitted to giving her bribes and using her parliamentary login ID to ask questions on her behalf.
Angry words and accusations flew thick and fast at the over four-hour-long meeting of the panel which might now prepare its recommendations and adopt a draft report at the next meeting, which is yet to be scheduled. It may recommend action against Moitra, sources said.
BJP MPs, who are in majority in the 15-member ethics panel, continued to hold deliberations after the walkout by five opposition lawmakers and are learnt to have taken a grim view of Moitra’s angry words and uncooperative attitude, the sources said.
BJP MP and panel member Aparajita Sarangi said Moitra behaved in an “angry, rude and arrogant” manner when she was asked about Hiranandani’s affidavit.
Opposition members, including N Uttam Kumar Reddy of the Congress, Danish Ali of the BSP and Girdhari Yadav of the JD(U), hit out at Sonkar.
“Such personal questions were asked from a woman,” Yadav told reporters.
Reddy accused Sonkar of acting at someone’s behest, an apparent jibe at the government, while Ali lashed out at indecent and unethical queries.
They also objected to the alleged leak of reports submitted to the panel by Union Ministries of IT and Home about the details, including the place and timing of log-in to Moitra’s parliamentary ID and her foreign travels. The committee had sought the assistance of the ministries for its inquiry.
They claimed BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, who is the complainant against Moitra, had already shared some of the details.
The third-term BJP MP from Godda in Jharkhand on Wednesday referred to “media reports” that her login ID was opened 47 times from Hiranandani’s place in Dubai and as many questions were asked in Parliament.
“It is a farcical exercise. We found the questions asked of her undignified and unethical,” Reddy alleged.
Defending the committee’s action, Sonkar told reporters it has been tasked with conducting a comprehensive probe. But instead of cooperating, he said, Moitra turned angry along with opposition members as they used “objectionable words” and made unethical claims against him.
BJP members said it was natural for the committee chairperson to ask her about her travel details. Opposition members alleged she was also queried about whom she met during her visits and other “personal” details. Every question posed to her was relevant to the allegations against her, BJP MPs insisted.
Moitra appeared before the committee at 11 am and spoke for over an hour, pleading innocence and claiming the allegations were borne out of personal animus of advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai after she ended her personal relationship with him.
She has in the past indirectly referred to him as a “jilted ex”. Dubey’s complaint is based on details submitted by Dehadrai. During the deposition, BJP member V D Sharma asked Moitra to respond to the substantive part of the allegation against her and not make it all about personal issues. Opposition members like Ali and Reddy have supported her line of argument and asserted that there is no evidence to support bribery charges against her.
Moitra writes to LS Speaker, says she was subjected to ‘proverbial vastraharan’
Mahua Moitra wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla on Thursday alleging that she was subjected to the “proverbial vastraharan” by the chairperson of the Ethics Committee during a hearing on the cash-for-query allegations against her.
She also alleged that the panel chairperson, BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar, instead of asking questions pertinent to the matter, exhibited a preconceived bias by questioning her in a malicious and defamatory way. “I write to you in great anguish today to update you on the unethical, sordid, and prejudiced behaviour meted out to me at the hearing of the Ethics Committee by the Chairman. I have been subjected to the proverbial ‘vastraharan’ by him in the presence of all members of the Committee,” Moitra said in her strongly worded letter. “The committee ought to designate itself under a name other than the Ethics committee as it has no ethics and morality left. Instead of asking questions pertinent to the subject, the Chairman exhibited a preconceived bias by maliciously and clearly in a defamatory way questioning me, so much so that 5 of the 11 members present walked out and boycotted the proceedings in protest at his shameful conduct,” she said.
Sonkar later said the committee had been tasked with conducting a comprehensive probe into the matter and that instead of cooperating, Moitra turned angry along with opposition members and they used “objectionable words” and made unethical claims against him.
Moitra has been accused of asking questions, which were keyed in through her parliamentary account, at the behest of businessman Darshan Hiranandani. It was also alleged that she shared her login credentials with the Dubai-based businessman. The complaint against Moitra was filed by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey.
In her letter, the TMC MP also requested the Lok Sabha Secretariat to disclose the regulations governing the sharing of one’s login and password of the portal to merely type out questions, adding that nothing could be submitted without an OTP.
“Why were these rules never given to MPs and if they were why is every single MP sharing this id and login with numerous people?” she said.
“I repeatedly protested on record that while the Chairman was welcome to ask me any question relevant to the enquiry- namely on the login and on those allegations of gifts for which evidence, or rather complete lack of it, existed he could not ask me detailed personal questions making insinuations about my dignity as a woman,” the MP added.