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Mahua Moitra: Outspoken MP faces the biggest test of her career

New Delhi: For the past several days, avid consumers of news are being served a sumptuous fare featuring Mahua Moitra, the feisty Trinamool Congress MP who is under siege right now.

At the moment, the cast of characters in this riveting drama includes Mahua, her “jilted ex” Jai Anant Dehadrai, a dog named ‘Henry’, two warring billionaire industrialists and a BJP MP – enough juice to inspire any enterprising scriptwriter to get to work.

But when it began on a lazy Sunday morning on October 15, no one could imagine that it would become this big, or this sordid. But these are strange times.

Right-wing supporters shared ‘cropped’ images of Mahua posing with a cigar and sipping champagne with friends some months ago. Not one to pull her punches, the MP hit back: Bengali women live a life, not a lie.

The cigar image came after Dehadrai had filed a complaint with the CBI; later, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey approached Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla seeking action against her.

All hell broke loose after that, with details steadily pouring out of the hosepipe of allegations. Now, Mahua is being accused of taking cash and gifts from an industrialist in lieu of asking questions against his rival in Parliament.

Mahua, who faces a probe by the Lok Sabha Ethics Committee, claimed the charges are being made at the behest of the Adani Group and dismissed them, even as Dubey alleged that it is a repeat of the 2005 cash-for-query scam.

The charges, if proved, can rock her political career and end her LS membership.

Educated in the US, Mahua worked as an investment banker at JP Morgan in New York. But she swapped the perks of the banking world for the rough and tumble of Indian politics.

Blockbuster debut

The articulate and stylish 49-year-old has never been out of the limelightsince her blockbuster debut inParliament as an MP from Krishnanagar.

Her first intervention in the Lok Sabha was on June 21, 2019, when she demanded the closure of ‘NaMo TV’. It may not have attracted much attention, but a month later, she had her moment when she skewered the Modi government

During her maiden address in the LS, in a short but fiery speech, Mahua outlined the “early signs” of fascism in India. Social media dubbed it ‘speech of the year’. Mahua had arrived.

Whenever there was a debate, be it a no-confidence motion, Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address or contentious bills like the Women’s Bill, citizens and MPs waited for Mahua’s interventions. She participated in 36 debates in over four years with an attendance of 85% and seemed to thrive in the pressure cooker of politics.

When it came to nominations to important parliamentary panels like the Joint Committee on Personal Data Protection Bill, Trinamool chose her as one of its nominees. The party also put her on the important Parliamentary Standing Committee on Communications and Information and Technology.

Mahua’s first stop in politics was with the Congress, where she was part of Rahul Gandhi’s pet project ‘Aam Aadmi Ka Sipahi’.

She was considered a prospect for the Congress in West Bengal. But in less than two years, she left theCongress to join the Trinamool in 2010, which has been her home since then.

Mahua loves to read, is a fitness enthusiast and likes to cook during free time. Her ‘urbaneness’ was a problem initially in her constituency but she made efforts to assimilate with voters.

Her style of functioning landed her in trouble with local leadership too often and Mamata herself publicly rebuked her once. In the party too, she has detractors for her ‘ekla chalo’ attitude.

Mahua’s outspokenness means she is a magnet for controversies, which also puts her party in a spot. A good example is the ‘Kaali’ poster controversy. The TMC distanced itself from Mahua’s comments that ‘Kaali’ is a “meat-eating” and “alcohol-accepting” Goddess.

She also had run-ins with the media (“two paisa media”) and engaged in verbal duels with the likes of BJP MPs Dubey and Ramesh Bidhuri (who called BSP MP Danish Ali a terrorist).

Now, she is facing the biggest challenge of her career.

According to the complaint filed by Dehadrai, Mahua asked around 50 questions, of the total 61 she posed, that had direct business interests to the Hiranandani Group.

Not just Dehadrai and Dubey, against whom she has filed privilege notices and accused him of faking his degrees, Darshan Hiranandani, too, claims she did it to target Modi.

While leaders DH contacted refused to comment citing parliamentary proceedings, Congress Leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said he feels the issue is ‘rai ka pahaad’ (mountain out of a molehill). He said the government is so eager to protect a particular industrialist that if anyone asks questions against him, the person becomes an enemy of the country.

As Mahua faces trouble, her party has maintained a studied silence. A senior leader told DH that she is capable of defending herself and doing so.

Mahua now faces a do-or-die battle involving one of the things that is in short supply these days — credibility. The coming days will reveal her fate.

(Published 21 October 2023, 20:26 IST)

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