Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) Member of the Parliament (MP) Mahua Moitra is being investigated by the Lok Sabha’s ethics committee over the allegations of taking bribes from a Dubai-based capitalist Darshan Hiranandani to question Gautam Adani, reportedly considered the chief patron of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Nishikant Dubey, a BJP MP from Jharkhand, has alleged that Moitra took money from Hiranandani for questioning Adani in the Parliament.
Dubey has alleged that the TMC MP took money and expensive gifts from Hiranandani, whom she calls her friend, for questioning Adani in the Parliament. He alleged that Moitra had provided her parliamentary portal’s login details to Hiranandani, who has used it to file questions on behalf of her targeting Adani. It’s also alleged that Hiranandani is a competitor of Adani Enterprises, which the multi-billionaire tycoon owns.
A 15-member ethics committee headed by BJP Lok Sabha MP Vinod Kumar Sonkar has been investigating whether Moitra provided her login details to Hiranandani to upload questions against Adani’s businesses in exchange for expensive luxury items. She has been reportedly asked by the committee to attend its proceedings on November 2nd.
Moitra has vehemently denied any wrongdoings and accused her “jilted ex”, advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai of collaborating with Dubey to defame her. The Opposition has also raised doubt about the BJP’s excessive focus on the case, alleging that the party is proactively guarding the interests of Adani Enterprises, which is reportedly one of the biggest funders of its Hindutva fascist juggernaut.
In the meantime, the Indian mainstream news outlets have been trying to hyper-sensationalise the case and have been toeing the BJP’s allegations without shedding light on certain important aspects that are involved in raising questions in the Parliament and also about the BJP’s links with Adani.
Why does questioning Adani in the Parliament make the BJP angry?
If Dubey’s allegations, which are supported by Dehdrai and Hiranandani, are true, then too it brings up an issue that can evoke a long debate. How can a BJP MP be a party in a case where a TMC MP is accused of taking bribes for questioning Adani in the Parliament? Does the questioning of Adani in the Parliament by Moitra and others hurt the interests of Dubey or his party?
Why Adani himself didn’t file a complaint against the TMC MP, but the BJP MP had to act as his agent? Why is the BJP always on the offensive against those parliamentarians who question Adani’s links with Modi and raise concern over the aggrandisement of the port-to-power conglomerate in the Indian political-economic sphere since 2014?
Earlier, the Congress party‘s Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi lost his post for a while after taking a dig at Adani’s close ties with Modi and the BJP. The Opposition often alleges that those who question Modi’s ties with Adani, have to suffer the brunt of the government’s vengeance.
In most of the cases, the Union government’s investigative agencies are unleashed at them. But these agencies – such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) – have not even looked back at the mountain of complaints against the Adani Group.
The Opposition has time and again presented various facts showing that Modi is making various financial decisions to protect the business interests of the Adani Group. In most of the cases, the common people are at the receiving end. It’s not merely that India’s economic policies are shaped in a way to provide an advantage to the Adani Group, but even India’s foreign policy is designed to promote the larger interests of the conglomerate.
The Adani Group has been surrounded by controversies since its inception. Allegations of tax evasion worth billions of rupees have been levelled against Adani, especially allegations of manipulating the price of imported coal and selling electricity at higher prices, resulting in losses to the country’s exchequer and the common people having to pay higher electricity bills.
However, despite the large number of allegations against Adani, especially of manipulation of share prices and other malpractices, none of the BJP MPs took any cognisance of them. The BJP has not uttered a word about the fact that the Stock Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is unable to complete the investigation into the Adani Group’s share manipulation case on the orders of the Supreme Court.
Rather, in January 2023, when the American short-seller Hindenburg Research published an investigative report accusing Adani of rigging the share prices, the BJP tried to portray the findings as an attack on India, in tune with Adani. They equated Adani’s growth with that of India and criticised those questioning Adani.
In a country where outstanding corporate debt is skyrocketing and written off every year for one reason or another, where according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, the unemployment rate in a festive month like October is 10.8%, where millions of rural poor are migrating to cities due to lack of fair prices for agricultural produce and climate change, how can a party with “Janata” (people) in its name leave the common people’s interests and advocate for Adani?
The fact is targeting Moitra for questioning Adani in the Parliament, or the way Congress party’s Gandhi was harassed in the past, proves that there is enough substance in the Opposition’s allegations that the BJP is shielding Adani Enterprises.
However, the allegations levelled against Moitra over her questioning Adani in the Parliament may fall flat due to the uncertainty that lingers over an MP’s attempt to ask questions due to a very critical procedure.
Procedure for raising questions in Parliament
The allegation raised by the BJP that Moitra took a bribe for questioning Adani in Parliament also raises many questions about its substance. And the thing that attracts the most attention is the process of questioning in Parliament. This process is very complicated and as a result, many MPs cannot raise important questions.
The first hour of the day in the Parliament session is marked as the question hour. During this hour MPs ask various questions about the policies and activities of the government. Basically, four types of questions are asked by MPs in this phase – starred questions, unstarred questions, short-notice questions and questions for private members.
For starred questions, MPs demand verbal answers from the concerned minister. The minister of the concerned ministry or the minister of state comes to the Parliament and answers such questions and, as a result, the MPs can also ask supplementary questions on the matter.
Up to 20 starred questions are allotted for discussion each day. These questions are asked on green sheets.
An MP has to give at least 20 days’ notice to the concerned ministry through the Lok Sabha Secretariat to ask a starred question to a concerned minister.
Answers to unstarred questions are to be communicated to the Parliament in writing by the concerned ministry. This question is addressed in a white sheet. There is generally no choice of asking supplementary questions on the unstarred questions.
Two hundred thirty unstarred questions are answered per day. Along with this, 25 questions can be asked regarding the States which are currently under President’s rule. As a result, a total of 255 unstarred questions can be asked in a day.
Short notice questions
Any question regarding urgent public interest may be raised in the Parliament at short notice. Short notice questions are also answered orally by ministers and it is at the speaker’s discretion when or whether such questions are allowed. These questions are provided on light pink coloured sheets.
Questions for private members
Any MP may ask another MP a question about any committee, motion, bill or any parliamentary business related to them. These types of questions are asked on yellow sheets and answers are sought from private members in the same way as ministers are asked for answers. But the Speaker decides when such questions can be asked.
Challenges in questioning
Although the above four types of questions can be asked by MPs in the Parliament, and for this, they send the questions to the Secretariat using the Parliament’s online portal, there is no guarantee that just because an MP sends a question, that will be raised in the Parliament.
Firstly, apart from the question, the MPs have to provide various information including the name of the minister, and the date on which the question is to be raised. The Secretariat may reject the question if there is an error in the manner in which the question is filed. Apart from this, no MP can ask more than five questions in a day in the Lok Sabha.
Secondly, after the question is registered it is selected through an automated ballot system. There are four separate automatic diary systems for four types of questions and there are limits on how many questions can be asked to the same minister on the same day.
Finally, the nature of the question is analysed in detail. The question may not seek clarification of any policy, may not be on any kind of unparliamentary or controversial matter, may not be related to any subjudice matter or a question that had been answered earlier or may adversely affect the relations of any foreign state with India.
As a result, even if an MP registers a question, the question may be not raised in an entire session or multiple questions may be raised by the same MP. As a result of this automatic ballot system, many MPs cannot get important information from the concerned ministries despite their best efforts.
Why Mohua Moitra’s case smacks of vindication?
Even if Hiranandani bribed Moitra and the latter handed over her login information to the former, there is no guarantee that the questions uploaded through her login would always be selected. If Dubey contends that questioning Adani in the Parliament has harmed India’s national interests, then the buck stops at the Speaker’s office.
How could the Speaker allow questions antithetical to the interests of India to be asked in the House? How did the questions on Adani’s business pass through the scrutiny of the Lok Sabha Secretariat and get through the automated balloting system? How could the BJP allow such questions to be tabled?
Whether Moitra took bribes from Hiranandani is now subject to investigation. But what has come to light is that acting as the gatekeepers of the Adani Group, the BJP would continue to attack the Opposition should any of its MPs try questioning Adani in the Parliament, or if they question the Modi government’s extraordinary love for the tycoon. The BJP can act with sheer insouciance when it comes to gagging the Opposition’s MPs and depriving them of their right to question the government if there is any mention of Adani.
If Moitra is found guilty, her due punishment—especially for degrading the honour of the Parliament—is certainly desirable. But before that, the Parliament also needs to find out why the Modi government is hellbent on protecting the reputation of Adani and providing him with absolute immunity. Suppressing the voice of the Opposition for questioning Adani in the Parliament, suspending or completely dismissing the Opposition MPs, etc, also needs to be investigated.
The Parliament is not the fiefdom of the government, rather it is the sacred platform for the Opposition in a parliamentary democracy to expose the failures of the government and its policy blunders. There the Opposition has full rights to criticise the government’s policies, to question all matters that violate the interests of the country and to demand information that’s crucial for the public. If the BJP wants to take away the sacrosanct rights using its brute majority, it will be their declaration of war against the Constitution and parliamentary democracy.
The Opposition has always accused the BJP of stifling any dissenting voice within and outside the Parliament. Now by attacking Moitra for questioning Adani in the Parliament and hiding the culprits in his party, isn’t Modi, once again, proving how accurate the allegations of the entire Opposition are about his government?
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