Never before in the history of parliamentary functioning the prolocutor of any legislative panel has come under such blistering criticism of character assassination and misogynistic perversion as Vinod Kumar Sonkar, the chairman of the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee.
There is no apparent reason to suspect the allegation levelled against him by TMC member Mahua Moitra, which was even publicly reiterated by the opposition members on the committee, that the panel chairperson, BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar, instead of asking questions pertinent to her taking cash and favour from the businessman Hiranandani and misuse of the internet system of the Lok Sabha, exhibited a preconceived bias by questioning her in a malicious and defamatory way. These members in fact had stormed out of the meeting hall in protest against the behaviour of the prolocutor.
Moitra has been accused of asking questions 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 Jharkhand BJP MP Nishikant Dubey who alleged that 61 questions were asked by her against Adani. But the fact is only six questions related to Adani. Dubey even went on to accusing her of violating the parliamentary rules and norms by giving her login credentials to Hiranandani.
It’s crystal clear that the BJP ecosystem and its media cell has been ready with a well-designed trap to unseat Moitra from Lok Sabha and end her political career. They were hesitant to arrest her as that would have made her the darling of the people and the forces fighting the misrule of Narendra Modi. For them her character assassination and maligning her image as a cheap and greedy lady were the best mechanism. Dubey, with this aim filed a complaint with the ethics committee.
The design of the BJP ecosystem and media cell got exposed when Sonkar put forward malafide, devious, demeaning and deceitful questions to her, compelling the opposition members on the committee to walk out. As has been informed to Speaker of Lok Sabha, Om Birla by Moitra herself, she was asked “who she spoke to late at night, on what software and for how long. They wanted to know if the wives of those she spoke to knew about it or not.” While narrating her mental agony and the nature of humiliation to a TV channel, she had to face from Sonkar, she said she was being literally projected as a “prostitute”. She sought to know: “Is this the level of enquiry of an Ethics Committee?”
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. But his clarification does not exonerate him of Moitra’s allegation against him that he deliberately put unethical and demeaning questions to her. The committee should have asked her to explain her conduct in the matter of cash for question and seeking gift from Hiranandani.
Matters came to a head when the chairman started asking personal questions such as how many times Moitra had called Hiranandani on the phone at night, which hotel she stayed at in Dubai and Mumbai. “We objected and so did Moitra,” said an Opposition MP on the panel. The focus was on the personal details instead of the substantive part of the complaint, he added.
Her agony and hurt feelings got reflected in her letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, after just coming out of the meeting room 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. “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. I cannot tell you how demeaning the whole line of questioning was. It was downright dehumanising. Do you know what it means to be asked the level of questions I was subjected to by the so-called Ethics Committee?”
Moitra also wrote: “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.”
It is not clear whether Speaker Om Birla will initiate any constitutional action in the matter, as many people have got their stakes in it. But one thing is absolutely clear that BJP will use its full might to see her penalised and thrown out of house. The BJP ecosystem cannot tolerate any one speaking against Adani and Modi.
Nonetheless she had own argument and does not find herself of committing any crime. She wrote to Birla: “Why these rules were 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 existed but he could not ask me detailed personal questions making insinuations about my dignity as a woman.”
Moitra has raised one important issue — why the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee chairman Vinod Kumar Sonkar did not allow her to cross-examine lawyer Jai Anant Dehadrai and businessman Darshan Hiranandani in the “cash-for-query” allegations levelled by them against her. She had already pointed to Sonkar: “The complainant Dehadrai has provided NO documentary evidence to back his allegations in either his written complaint, and neither could he provide any evidence in his oral hearing. In keeping with the principles of natural justice, I wish to exercise my right to cross-examine Dehadrai.”
In the case of Hiranandani — who is the alleged “bribe-giver” and is said to have given a suo motu affidavit to the committee — Moitra pointed out that the document has “scant details and no documentary evidence whatsoever” and demanded that he be called to depose before the panel and provide a “documented itemised inventory with amounts, date, etc”. Even her request to cross examine was acceded to by the ethics committee. It is absolutely correct that any inquiry without such cross-examination by her would be “incomplete and unfair. Sonkar certainly owes an explanation why she was denied this opportunity. The Committee is ready to penalise her based on their complaint. But ironically enough, it is not providing opportunity to Moitra to verify the veracity of the allegation from the complainants.
What has indeed been shocking that the ethics committee, instead of preparing its own set of questions, was reading out the questions from a script. Moitra said: “This is an Ethics Committee reading from a script, asking all sorts of filthy questions.” BSP member Danish Ali said: “We did not want to be part of such a process because they are asking unethical questions. Draupadi ka cheerharan kar rahein hain wahan (Draupadi is being stripped inside).”
Incidentally, the BJP member on the committee Aparajita Sarangi said: “The chairperson of the committee was asking questions regarding the contents of the affidavit by Hiranandani and she did not want to answer them. And then they created a ruckus.” To put the matter in proper perspective, the so-called affidavit from Hiranandani did not mention any personal matters of Moitra.
At least three opposition MPs who formed part of the 14-member ethics panel, N Uttam Kumar Reddy of the Congress, Danish Ali of the BSP and Giridharilal Yadav of the RJD, walked out of the meeting accusing the committee, which is supposed to be probing charges of violation of ethical behaviour of a woman MP, “acted in an unethical manner” during the questioning session. Reddy alleged “his questions were prejudicial, biased and undignified. We had been trying to tell him from the start of the day to not follow this line of questioning, but he wouldn’t listen”.
It is obvious that the BJP script has been strictly adhered to. This belief gains strength that just after these profane incidents, Dubey came out with his remark that Moitra has to go. Nothing can stop her. Meanwhile, protesting MPs have sought to know how BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, a complainant, managed to get hold of a “confidential” report of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) stating that Moitra’s parliamentary login was accessed 47 times from Dubai and even put it out in public domain when that report was only made available to committee members a day later. Opposition parties are also eagerly looking forward to the action which TMC chief Mamata Banerjee is supposed to take after the meeting as revealed by the party leader Derek O’Brien. (IPA Service)