It is difficult to corner Mahua Moitra and confine her into neat little boxes of traditional norms. The only norm that the Lok Sabha MP has followed is to defy the powers that be. In doing so, she has ruffled feathers, and some would say that she has done so even within her own party. Faced with the toughest challenge of her political career so far, Moitra is fighting back fiercely. The same combativeness is well evident in her exclusive interview with THE WEEK where she says that she has nothing to hide and that the Ethics Committee acted like a kangaroo court. Edited excerpts:
You have been appointed in-charge of Krishnanagar district by your party. What is the significance of the assignment for you in the present circumstances?
It is important to me because I am an organisational person. The issue is just because I don't fit the traditional mould of a politician, and in this BJP world, they kind of paint you out as a Jezebel and they like to put you out there as a dilettante politician. But the truth is I am a grassroots politician and I have come up the hard way. I have toiled in the organisation, first became an MLA, then became an MP. I have been a district president before, and I am very glad to get that back.
There was a perception that the party did not back you in the matter as much as it would have been expected to.
No, that is not true at all. The BJP put this story out saying that, oh, Mamata Banerjee put her under the bus. There were all these stories that Mamata has done a deal with the BJP to save her nephew. But this is the usual right wing propaganda. They have written my obituary in the TMC 20 times over, right? Initially, because it was in the Ethics Committee, even I didn't talk about it for the first ten days. And then we found that the BJP wanted to run a media trial. My party didn't obviously want to be part of that media trial. And they thought 'let the Ethics Committee do something, and then we will react'. So, it was only when I realised, around October 26, that this was actually a media trial, and I am facing character assassination, that I fought back and came out myself. Mamata Banerjee is not going to comment on something frivolous. So when the Ethics Committee came out, and they did this entire kangaroo court, is when the party came out and said the right process was not followed.
Did Mamata speak to you on this issue?
I can't say that. The party has been with me right from day one. I can say that much.
The Ethics Committee has finalised its report which will come to the House, which is BJP dominated. If they expel you, what will be your first step?
There is no mention of any cash; the fake complaint talks about cash, the so-called corroborating affidavit makes no mention of cash. So, cash has gone out the window. And about these gifts, in the corroborating affidavit, there is a very vague paragraph 12 of what the so-called gifts are. This person who is the alleged bribe giver is an Indian citizen; he is equally culpable of bribing a public servant. So where is the list of gifts? Why is this person not called before the ethics committee to give a list of gifts? The only gifts on the table are the ones that I have spoken about, which is one birthday present and two lipsticks as a friend.
If you see the recommendations of the Ethics Committee, it's laughable. Number one is to expel, number two is to ask an agency to investigate. If you haven't found any evidence, how do you expel someone? The Ethics Committee can't expel, a Special Committee or a Privileges Committee can. So this is a kangaroo court. It is a BJP house. Let the expulsion happen and I will then let people know what I am going to do next.
If expulsion happens, will going to the court be an option? You have the option of filing a writ petition.
Yes, of course. And this expulsion people are talking about, the BJP would want to shut you up and lock you up and throw away the key, right? And they can't find a way to do it. So they are doing it in this disgusting manner by using these little weasels, such as (Nishikant) Dubey. Because he can't be acting as a postbox. Since when does an acrimonious ex go to an MP and use the MP as a postbox to get to the speaker? The first thing is that an Ethics Committee complaint should not be frivolous or vexatious, and should be made in good faith. How does someone who has got a history of acrimony with me, has threatened me, abused me, and harassed me get to go to an Ethics Committee via an MP? Tomorrow some other MP's ex-wife can come and say that while I was married to him, he took money for a Lok Sabha campaign. Where does this end?
So, there are options open, but remember, even the expulsion is only for the course of the 17th Lok Sabha.
You have been asked this before; this issue about sharing your login and password.
It is ridiculous. In this way, I use typist services. Please put it out there that you can't do that. In the committee report, they have written that he is not a foreign national, but he has relatives who are foreign nationals. My own sister is a British citizen. Half my family are British citizens. This is some ludicrous joke. I am covered under Article 105 of the Constitution as a parliamentarian. I can source information from anywhere, ask questions about anything, even if he were a competitor to Adani and he gave me questions about Adani, why not? How am I supposed to know about Adani's malpractices if not from competitors? What is wrong with that? If there are five bidders for Dhamra port who don't get the port, and Adani gets it without a tender, and I talk to five other ports, what is wrong with that? It's in public interest.
You have admitted that you shared your login to the portal with Hiranandani.
It is not a parliament login. It is only to the portal where you can only do questions and travel reimbursement. Every single MP has ten people even today doing it.
So, you are completely convinced that you did nothing wrong?
I did nothing wrong. Not at all. Can you give it to somebody in your office to type because I don't have a typist. What is illegal about it? If it is illegal, show me the rules. Show us the NIC rules that prohibit this.
You tweeted about an MP [Nishikant Dubey] who has now been summoned by the court in Delhi for asking for Rs 2 crore.
That is in 2014. Just two weeks ago in the Supreme Court, there was a case where his wife had bought land worth Rs 16 crore for Rs 3 crore. And the district magistrate filed a case against him in Deogarh. And he had gone to the Jharkhand High Court and got a stay. Last week, in the Supreme Court, Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul granted leave in the matter and agreed to hear the case. He is just a criminal wheeler-dealer.
A point that has been raised is that the Hiranandani Group's business interests clash with those of the Adani Group. So, was it proper to allow Hiranandani to ask questions?
This is the biggest lie. Hiranandani did not ask any questions. I have asked 61 questions over the past five years. There are only nine questions relating to Adani. And each of those nine questions is in public interest. Six of those questions are about the foreign portfolio investors coming into Adani Group, which are in public interest. One is about Dhamra. What is Hiranandani going to do with it? Today, Adani owns everything. Darshan did not write any questions. I had someone in his office type out my questions.
What about Hiranandani's affidavit? You have said he did this under duress and it was dictated by the PMO.
The story breaks on the 15th (of October). On the 16th, the Hiranandani Group puts out a disclaimer, saying we know nothing about this. Next day, they get to his father, Niranjan Hiranandani, put a gun to his head, said, 'we put the CBI against you, we put the ED against you, you need to give us something to fix Mahua Moitra ASAP'. They first give him a white paper thing, which he signs and they float it around. And then I raised the question about it. The next day, they made him fly down to Bombay for one day and sit with his father and do this. He flew back and they put a gun to his head, so that tomorrow morning, go to the Dubai office and sign this. It's a 12 paragraph affidavit. Darshan is an educated man with a master's degree, he is an engineer, he runs a huge company. Eleven paragraphs of that thing is singing songs to Narendra Modi and Gautam Adani. If he is Gautam Adani's competitor, why would he write 11 pages of how great Gautam Adani is? Does he say he's a competitor of Adani and wanted to get him? He says Mahua wanted to get famous, hence she was targeting Adani. Do you see the language there? Was he an idiot then that he was helping me? I am an opposition MP. How can I help him?
Where are his businesses? In Uttar Pradesh, in Gujarat, in Maharashtra, all BJP-owned states. In paragraph 12, if he is a bribe giver, he should be writing down. There are no details. On what basis have you hung me? I want to know. Some ex-boyfriend's ridiculous made up fairy tale and Nishikant Dubey being used as a post office? Where is the proof? Where is one rupee? The only reason you know that he gave me a Hermes scarf is because I said so. He has written 'support for renovation of bungalow'. What is support? You could have got me bamboo for the guy to climb up on the scaffolding. Travel expense can be a bus ticket. Is this how an affidavit is written? The BJP has dumbed us down. There is no logic left. There is no reason left. There is no legalese left.
Hiranandani was a friend of yours. Are you disappointed with how he has dealt with the issue?
He is still a friend. But I have realised that Narendra Modi's government wants to make me radioactive. They want to make me into a person whose friends will not mix with her. I'm not disappointed, but you realise what lengths this government will go to, put a gun to his father's head, and put a gun to his head and say, please frame Mahua Moitra. You realise the desperation?
Do you ever regret leaving your plum job and joining Indian politics?
No, not at all. When something like this happens, I realise how much people like us are still required, because it is only because of what I am, that I am still standing up straight. Any lesser being would have quit it by now. So now I realise I shouldn't have been wasting my time as managing director at JP Morgan, or as a senior banker at JP Morgan. This country needs people like us who, in spite of everything, can stand up straight. So this episode has told me all the more that I found my calling. Because history will judge us.
Some people are saying this could be the end of the road for Mahua Moitra, the politician.
Why don't we wait for another five months. Three weeks ago they said she will never show her face. At least 50 per cent of them are turning around and saying, 'thank you'. Let them expel me. They have already made me a Jhansi ki Rani. They will make me a Joan of Arc. I am not going to stop. They are the ones with something to hide. I have nothing to hide. The value of two lipsticks is not going to shut my mouth.
Your party is part of the INDIA bloc. What is your take on the future of the alliance?
Look, it depends on the people of India, but I think everybody can see and in this episode also, everybody can see that what the BJP is all about. I think the INDIA bloc is happening.
The matter also saw some intense discussion about your private life.
It is typical, misogynistic, patriarchal, woman shaming. It is the classic mould. That is what they did to Hillary (Clinton). I have come from Bengal, where we don't have this kind of misogyny. And in national politics, it is very prevalent, especially under a BJP regime. Disobedient women and Muslim men, the BJP can't stand them. So, shame them, slander them, character assassinate them. But I have thick skin. I don't care.