The spectacle surrounding the Trinamool MP’s expulsion from Parliament has left the most important question unanswered: What is her actual “crime”?
Editor’s note: We have lots more background and context on the Moitra case in this previous Big Story.
Researched by: Rachel John
The Mahua Moitra case: A quick recap
The case against Moitra seemingly came out of thin air—and then gathered pace very quickly. It starts with a CBI complaint filed by Jai Anant Dehadrai—Moitra’s former partner:
- On October 14, Dehradai files a CBI complaint—asking for a First Information Report (FIR) on charges of corruption and money laundering. He also separately writes to the Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla.
- The very next day, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey submits a similar complaint to Birla—demanding Moitra’s suspension and an investigation into the charges.
- On October 17, the complaint is referred by Om Birla to the parliamentary ethics committee.
- On October 19, Darshan Hirandani—a Dubai businessman and Moitra’s friend—submits an affidavit claiming that he posted “questions directly on her behalf.”
- He says she shared login credentials for her parliamentary email account with him—and that he bought her “expensive luxury items.”
- On November 2, Moitra appears before the committee—but walks out—alleging that chairman Vinod Sonkar asked her “extremely personal” questions—and describes the process as ‘vastraharan’.
- On November 9, the Ethics Committee recommends expelling Moitra—calling her actions "highly objectionable, unethical, heinous and criminal.”
The expulsion: What happened in Parliament
The Ethics Committee forwarded its recommendation to Speaker of the House Om Birla. He tabled it in front of the Lok Sabha on Friday. Then this happened:
- The Ethics Committee presented its 500-page report to the MPs.
- They were given two hours to read it. When the Opposition asked for more time, Birla refused.
- The Opposition also asked that Moitra be given a chance to defend herself, Birla refused.
- An hour-long debate followed where members of the Opposition were allowed to speak on behalf of Moitra, instead.
- The Speaker put Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi’s proposal to expel Moitra in front of the Lok Sabha.
- The Opposition staged a walkout—which did little to prevent a voice vote. Moitra was expelled.
The case against Moitra
The guilty verdict: The committee report was unambiguous on Moitra’s guilt:
The Ethics Committee report against Ms Moitra noted "allegations of accepting illegal gratification (are) clearly established and are undeniable", and that "taking gifts from (a) businessman to whom she handed over log-in (details) amounts to a quid pro quo... unbecoming of an MP and is unethical conduct".
And after the voice vote, Speaker Birla declared: “This House accepts the conclusions of the Committee - that MP Mahua Moitra's conduct was immoral and indecent. So, it is not appropriate for her to continue as an MP..." But, but, but: How did the committee arrive at its “conclusions”?
The report cites two main allegations against Moitra:
Allegation #1: She broke parliamentary regulations by sharing the login credentials for her online Parliament account.
The evidence: The committee made the following claims:
- Her account was accessed 47 times from Dubai—at times when she herself was not present in the city.
- Moitra's friend—the Dubai businessman Darshan Hirandani—signed an affidavit admitting he posted questions directly into her account.
- Anyone who logged into the portal had access to confidential documents such as draft bills: “Sharing passwords… could lead to these drafts falling into the hands of elements inimical to the country.”
- Although Hirandani is an Indian citizen, he resides in Dubai—increasing the “serious risk of leakage of sensitive material to foreign agencies.”
The cited law: Interestingly, the report does not point to any parliamentary regulation prohibiting the sharing of credentials. Rather, it refers to the IT Act—which has nothing to do with the Parliamentary portal:
The committee cited Section 66 read with Section 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which prescribes punishment for sharing user ID and password in a “fraudulent and dishonest manner” with imprisonment for a term up to three years, a fine up to Rs. 5-lakh, or both.
Moitra’s response: She points out that there is no specific rule against sharing login credentials—which is routine among MPs:
In her response, Moitra has said that most MPs let their assistants… do logistical work like uploading of questions, get passes, and similar other things. A large number of MPs have accepted that they have little knowledge about the digital medium, and generally ask their assistants adept in handling computers to do their work. So, Moitra emphasised that a majority of MPs have shared their user IDs and passwords with their staff, and that does not mean that MPs do not prepare their own questions.
No Member of Parliament has contradicted her claim—including her BJP colleagues.
Allegation #2: She took bribes—in kind and cash—from Darshan Hirandani in exchange for asking questions about Gautam Adani and PM Modi in Parliament.
The evidence: for this claim is extremely thin—and circumstantial. The report simply claims that 50 of the 61 questions posted by Moitra were about Gautam Adani—and aimed at “protecting or perpetuating business interests” of Hiranandani.
But, but, but: A NewsLaundry investigation of Moitra’s questions shows that she asked 62 questions on matters that concern 28 ministries during her tenure as MP since 2019. Of these, only nine were related to the Adani Group—six directed at the petroleum ministry—and the others at finance, civil aviation, and coal ministries.
The bigger problem: is that the committee cites Hirandani’s affidavit—where he makes the opposite claim. That Moitra attacked Adani to promote her own political career—and he was roped into serving her ambitions:
Hiranandani suggests that he was compelled to assist Moitra due to his friendship with her. At the same time, he says that Moitra was supported in her endeavour to attack Adani by journalists like Sucheta Dalal, Shardul Shroff, Pallavi Shroff, and possibly international journalists from BBC, Financial Times, The New York Times with whom she had frequent interactions. Hiranandani says that “over a period of time” in being forced to help her to attack Adani, he expected some business contracts in opposition-ruled states.
Most importantly: The report offers absolutely no evidence of bribery connecting Moitra to Hirandani. The report instead foists that responsibility on to the CBI:
Saying that it did not have the technical wherewithal to investigate any money trail — or cash benefits that Moitra may have taken from Hiranandani in return for asking questions against billionaire Gautam Adani — the committee recommended that the government investigate this in a time-bound manner.
Also: It would be odd for Hirandani to pay Moitra anything since he insists the alleged anti-Adani campaign was to her benefit—not his.
Point to note: The House Speaker and BJP leaders have repeatedly cited a 2005 case—where 10 MPs were expelled after a Cobrapost sting. They were caught on camera agreeing to ask specific questions for cash. There is no such evidence in the case of Moitra.
The bottomline: Moitra can contest her expulsion by appealing to the Supreme Court—if she can show that it is unconstitutional or violates her fundamental rights as a citizen. She can also challenge the jurisdiction of the Ethics Committee—arguing it overstepped its mandate. In any case, she has only been suspended for this term of the Lok Sabha. Come 2024, she can run again—and win her way back into the Parliament.
But the damage has already been done—as The Hindu warns: “The precedent that the majority in Parliament can expel an Opposition member on a dubious charge is ominous for parliamentary democracy. The expulsion of Ms. Moitra is a case of justice hurried and buried.”
The Statesman and NDTV sum up what happened in Parliament. Indian Express has a good breakdown of the evidence. News18 explains the difference between the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi and the expulsion of Mahua Moitra. For her point of view, read this lengthy interview in The Guardian. The Hindu and News18 look at whether her expulsion can bring the INDIA coalition together. For more on her legal options, see Indian Express and Hindustan Times. The Wire does the best job of identifying three key flaws in the case against Moitra. The Hindu also has the invasive questions asked of Moitra during the Ethics Committee hearings.