Mahua Moitra’s Mahabharata

Had Moitra played the “victim card” instead of gender, she may have had more takers. For an MP and that too one who is vocal, confident and fiery, the woman-card does not cut much ice. 

“I have been subjected to the proverbial ‘vastraharan’… in the presence of all members of the Committee,” is how Trinamool Congress MP, Mahua Moitra described the treatment meted out to her. 

In a strongly worded three-page letter to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Moitra alleged a “bias” by the Chairman of the Ethics Committee, accusing him of a ”defamatory way of questioning” her.  

Stating that “this filthy line of questioning” was against her personal dignity and rights, Moitra said that the Chairman asked her personal questions that exceeded his brief. She charged him of  “shameful conduct” and a “display of unethical, sordid, and prejudiced behaviour” towards her. 

The Chairman, Moitra alleged, came with a pre-written script from which he was reading out, which contained the most disgusting, invasive, private details about my personal life, which had nothing to do with the hearing whatsoever. 

Moitra is facing an enquiry following charges of asking questions in Parliament in exchange for gifts and money from businessman Darshan Hiranandani. 

She is alleged to have shared her official login credentials with the businessman in question to draft questions that were to be asked in Parliament. 

In an affidavit, Hiranandani has stated that he had given expensive gifts to Moitra and used her Parliament mail ID to ask questions, which targeted the Adani group. 

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey, had levelled allegations of bribery against Moitra, based on what was termed as “irrefutable” evidence provided by Supreme Court lawyer Jai Dehadrai.  

Subsequently, Moitra was questioned by the Parliament Ethics Committee, chaired by BJP MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar.  

Targeting Sonkar, Moitra said that he made “insinuations about my dignity as a woman”.  

To quote her: “Ultimately I don’t have to stand there to be humiliated as a woman…. I will not stand there and be subjected to this ‘cheerharan’  by some chairperson under his party whip”.

Moitra is on record to state that Hiranandani was a close friend, much before she was elected a Member of Parliament.

For the uninitiated, Mahua took a leaf out of the scriptures. 

The vastraharan Mahua has repeatedly referred to is a sequence in the Mahabharata. 

Also known as Panchali Cheerharan, the Draupadi Vastraharan is an important episode in the Mahabharata. 

When the Pandavas lost their wife Draupadi to the Kauravas in a game of dice, she was dragged into the court, pulled by her hair and an attempt was made to disrobe her. The five men she was married to looked helpless and did little to salvage the situation. The onus was on Draupadi to save herself. Legend has it that she prayed to Lord Krishna. Almost miraculously yards and yards of fabric appeared making the disrobing impossible.  

Moitra’s story has shades of the Mahabharata: that she is fighting a lone battle is a given. 

Like the Pandavas, her party the Trinamool Congress has done little to salvage her honour. Party General Secretary, Abhishek Banerjee said that Moitra is “competent enough to fight her own battles”. 

If anyone has shown some solidarity it is the non-BJP members in the Committee. If reports are to be believed, they staged a walk out on grounds that “unethical questions” were asked. To suggest that they doubled up for Krishna would perhaps be blasphemy. Yet the fact remains that they did stand up for her: quite unlike her own Party which kind of left her to fend for herself: quite like the Pandavas in the Mahabharata. 

While the jury is out on whether the Ethics Committee exceeded its brief, critics have lashed out at Moitra for playing the “woman card” as it were. 

To use the cheerharan analogy is a bit of a stretch given that Moitra is on record to state that the charges against her were based on a “jilted ex’s lies”. 

Against this backdrop, the Committee is well within its rights to tread personal ground and ask pointed questions about a relationship gone sour. Therefore to cry foul after willingly opening a can of worms is not only unconvincing but a desperate attempt to play to the gallery. It is also aimed at garnering public sympathy.  

Worse still, Moitra has accepted sharing her log in details and taking “secretarial and typist assistance” from Hiranandani. She has admitted that it was Hiranandani’s office that keyed in the questions that she asked in Parliament. 

Just to set the record straight, every MP is entitled to secretarial assistance and therefore does not need to go to a private entity for “assistance”. Moitra is no exception. Therefore to seek typist assistance or use a private individual’s office set up does not fit in. 

In a signed affidavit, Hiranandani has accused Moitra of accepting bribes to ask questions in Parliament. Moitra has tried to trivialize the charge: “The sum total of all gifts I have received from him are – 1. One Scarf 2. Some items of make-up 3. Use of car and driver when I have visited Bombay on maybe 4-5 occasions in the past 5 years and maybe twice in Dubai” and so on and so forth.  

The issue is not about a scarf or a lipstick but one of propriety. It is not about the quantum but the act itself. So if Moitra admits receiving gifts, then there could be more than meets the eye.  

Having said that, one cannot deny politics playing out full time or the Committee Chairman “acting on someone’s behest”. 

Moitra has been vocal about the “nexus” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and industrialist Gautam Adani. Therefore, the BJP’s itch to “get her” is a given.

Against this backdrop, had Moitra played the “victim card” instead of gender, she may have had more takers. For an MP and that too one who is vocal, confident and fiery, the woman-card does not cut much ice.  

At the time of going to Press, while the Committee had recommended her expulsion from the House, the final scene had yet to be scripted. 

While on women, another sequence played out in the Bihar Assembly with Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in the eye of a storm. 

In a bid to advocate women’s education in population control, Kumar slipped up badly. 

Earlier this week, he told the state Assembly that a woman who is adept in sex education can restrain her husband during intercourse which can then lead to a lesser number of births. 

In a vivid description in the state assembly of how an educated woman can restrain her husband during sexual intercourse, Kumar had said: “The husband’s acts led to more births. However, with education, a woman knows how to restrain him… this is the reason the numbers (of births) are coming down…” he had said in Hindi, the explicit description nothing short of being vulgar. 

The furore that followed led him to retract: “I apologize if I have hurt anybody. It was not intended to hurt anybody” Kumar said after BJP legislators blocked entry to the Assembly. 

Kumar sure apologized but the “if” in the apology was the damaging part. To imagine that the vulgarity of both the thought, the content and the language is subject to an “if” is adding insult to injury. 

For those who heard the original version squirmed at the thought process and patriarchal mindset that the Chief Minister had displayed on the floor of the House. It was enough to make people run for cover. 

So for the Chief Minister to apologize with a rider of an if  is a shocker. 

For a head of a state to even comprehend such a vulgar thought process puts a question mark on the state and status of women under Kumar’s regime: the concept of dignity being completely alien. 

Therefore, were one were to take a dispassionate and objective view, if there was any cheerharan, it was on the floor of the Assembly in Bihar rather than in the Committee that examined Moitra.