On October 16, BJP Member of Parliament (MP) Nishikant Dubey wrote a letter to Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw and junior minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar, urging an investigation into allegations of a ‘bribe for questions’ row involving Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Mahua Moitra. The day before, Dubey had written to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, presenting a letter from a Supreme Court lawyer containing purportedly “irrefutable” evidence of bribes exchanged between Moitra and businessman Darshan Hiranandani. Drawing parallels to the 2005 ‘Cash for Query’ scandal, Dubey implored the Speaker to establish a probe panel to examine the allegations.
In his letter to the IT Minister, Nishikant Dubey raised concerns about whether Mahua Moitra had provided her login credentials for the Lok Sabha website to Hiranandani and his real estate conglomerate, the Hiranandani Group, potentially for their personal gain.
Nishikant Dubey’s letter
Describing this as “arguably the most severe and consequential of all the accusations” levelled against her, Dubey contended that if proven true, it would constitute a significant criminal breach of trust and a breach of India’s national security.
Dubey’s letter stemmed from correspondence received from a Supreme Court lawyer, Jai Anant Dehadrai containing what was described as “irrefutable evidence of bribes” exchanged between Moitra and businessman Darshan Hiranandani, CEO of the real estate conglomerate Hiranandani Group. The BJP MP underscored the resemblance of these allegations to the ‘Cash for Query Scandal’ of December 2005.
Meanwhile, Moitra vehemently denied all the allegations. On October 15, she responded to Dubey’s letter to Birla with a jab. Taking to X (formerly Twitter), she quipped, “I am using all my ill-gotten cash and gifts to buy a college or university in which Degree Dubey can finally buy a real degree. Please, Om Birla, finish the inquiries against him for false affidavits and then set up my inquiry committee.”
SC lawyer Dehadrai’s allegations
Here are the allegations against Mahua Moitra:
- It is claimed that out of the 61 questions posed in Parliament by the Trinamool MP until recently, 50 were allegedly aimed at furthering the business interests of Darshan Hiranandani and his conglomerate. The SC lawyer Dehadrai contends that these questions often centred on the Adani Group, a rival conglomerate of Hiranandani, and were allegedly posed in exchange for cash and gifts spanning from 2019 to 2023.
- The lawyer Dehadrai asserts that Moitra has consistently targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and Nirmala Sitharaman in recent years, frequently referencing the Adani Group. The allegation suggests that this was potentially done to create an impression that she is critical of the government, possibly as a cover for her purported covert activities.
- The lawyer Dehadrai claims to have witnessed phone conversations between Moitra and Hiranandani, who purportedly had direct access to her ID and password to login Lok Sabha portal and would frequently submit questions on her behalf. In return for this, Moitra allegedly received a variety of gifts, including iPhones, diamond and emerald jewellery, luxury items from Hermes and Louis Vuitton, around 35 pairs of Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, as well as numerous bottles of French and Italian wines. The lawyer recounts an instance where he allegedly discovered Moitra in possession of 20,000 pounds in cash, which Hiranandani supposedly used to pay salaries to staff and other employees hired by Moitra.
- Hiranandani allegedly referred to Moitra as his own “Santa’s little hope,” implying that she was fully under his influence and always ready to advance and safeguard his business interests. The lawyer claims to have overheard discussions between Moitra and Hiranandani about a payment of Rs 75 lakh before the 2019 elections. Additionally, in 2021, they allegedly discussed another tranche of Rs 2 crore sent through Hawala channels to a very close friend of Moitra, another MP from Orissa.
- Following her election victory in 2019, Moitra was provided with a government apartment. Dissatisfied with it, she initiated renovations, which were reportedly carried out by a construction company linked to Hiranandani. This decision was made due to Moitra’s discontent with the budgets provided by CPWD. The approval process also involved contractor Zakir Nizami, who allegedly received instructions and designs from Hiranandani. Several construction standards were purportedly violated, including the installation of a skylight in the dining area with a chandelier suspended beneath it.
- In regard to Moitra’s conduct in Parliament, the lawyer Dehadrai labelled her and her TMC colleague Saugata Roy as the “shouting brigade” of their party. It is alleged that their consistent verbal confrontations, on various pretexts, disrupt House proceedings and encroach upon the constitutional rights of other parliamentarians to discuss and debate issues concerning the public and government policies.
Rottweiler Henry sparked controversy
On October 19, Dehadrai, who has taken a leading role in making these accusations against Krishnanagar MP Moitra, addressed a letter to Delhi Police Commissioner Sanjay Arora.
In his communication, Dehadrai outlined a distressing account of what he characterises as Moitra’s vindictive actions. He asserts that Moitra engaged in a campaign of harassment, culminating in the distressing act of taking his beloved pet, Henry. Dehadrai alleges that the purpose behind this purported act was to intimidate and extort him in relation to the CBI complaint filed against Moitra.
The lawyer expressed his expectation of threats and overwhelming fear for his life throughout this legal dispute with the TMC MP. He provided supporting documents in the written complaint to substantiate his legal ownership of Henry, a Rottweiler breed dog he acquired in January 2021 from a private shop in Delhi’s Janakpuri area.
In the written complaint to the Delhi CP, he wrote, “This is with reference to the theft and illegal retention of my three-year-old pet dog named Henry (Rottweiler breed) by Mahua Moitra, M.P., Lok Sabha, Resident of 9-B, Telegraph Lane, New Delhi – 110001,” under the subject line — “Complaint against Mahua Moitra, M.P., for Theft and Illegal Retention of my pet dog named Henry.”
Dehadrai also wrote, “My bond with my dog Henry is that of a parent and a child. I have looked after him since he was 40 days old, and I understand his every need and concern.”
He further accused Moitra of hiding away his pet as a retaliation to his CBI complaint. “Ms. Moitra has deliberately kidnapped and hidden Henry away from me since 10.10.2023, with the intent to harass, and blackmail me in response to the CBI Complaint dated 14.10.2023, which I have filed against her,” he wrote.
“I would request you with folded hands and all humility that this dog Henry belongs with his rightful owner-parent. Time is of the essence, and I would beseech you to please reunite me with Henry at the earliest. Under such circumstances, I anticipate tremendous fear and threat to my life. I request you to please protect my life and liberty and help me get my dog Henry back,” he wrote in the letter.
Hiranandani issues affidavit
On October 20, Hiranandani revealed an affidavit to the media stating that MP Mahua Moitra had entrusted him with her parliamentary login ID to formulate questions targeting the Adani group, as she believed it was the “only way” to criticise Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Although the three-page affidavit, a copy of which is in possession of Organiser, admits to some points aligning with BJP’s allegations against Moitra, it does not address the central charge that she posed over 50 parliamentary questions on behalf of the Hiranandani Group to gain an advantage over its business rival, the Adani Group.
The affidavit suggests a different narrative, implying that she sought assistance to politically target PM Modi and employ the Adani group in a campaign against him.
In response, Moitra, in a two-page statement along with five questions, contested Hiranandani’s affidavit, claiming that the Prime Minister’s Office coerced him to sign the white paper, which was subsequently “leaked to the press.”
Hiranandani’s assertion still poses a challenge for Moitra, as the BJP is advocating for her suspension from parliament. If it is proven that she shared her parliamentary login ID with Hiranandani, it could be considered a breach of privilege that might lead to a suspension order against her.
Caught up in the “cash-for-questions” controversy surrounding Moitra, Hiranandani clarified that he submitted the affidavit because the matter directly involved him and has escalated into a political dispute, involving the Parliamentary Privilege Committee and the judiciary.
According to the affidavit, Mahua Moitra believed that the only way to criticise PM Modi was by targeting Gautam Adani, and so she anticipated support. For this reason, she shared her parliamentary login ID with him to draft the questions, as stated by Hiranandani. He went along with this plan because he believed that through her, he would receive support in the Opposition-ruled states.
He also alleged that Moitra received support from others in this endeavour, including journalists, opposition leaders, and former Adani Group employees, who provided her with unverified information. In this context, he mentioned Sucheta Dalal, who has refuted the allegations in a post on X, among others.
“She… requested me to keep supporting her in her attacks on the Adani group and provided me her Parliament login and password so that I could post the questions directly on her behalf when required,” he stated in the affidavit.
Hiranandani further claimed that the Trinamool MP was a “domineering” and “ambitious” individual who made various demands for “various favours,” which he fulfilled to maintain her support and their close friendship. This list included giving her expensive luxury items, “assisting with the renovation of her officially assigned bungalow in Delhi, covering travel expenses, holidays, and more,” he wrote.
“I could hardly afford to displease her,” the affidavit stated. “Many times, I felt she was taking unfair advantage of me and pressuring me to do things I didn’t want to, but I had no choice due to the aforementioned reasons,” he added.
Hiranandani clarified that he submitted the affidavit because the matter “directly involves him and has escalated into a political controversy,” with the issue now before the Parliamentary Privilege Committee and the judiciary.
Moitra calls the allegations fake
In a press statement posted on X, Mahua Moitra cast doubt on the credibility of the affidavit, noting that it was on “plain white paper and lacked an official letterhead or notarisation.” She dismissed the contents of the affidavit as a farce.
Jai Ma Durga. pic.twitter.com/Z2JsqOARCR
— Mahua Moitra (@MahuaMoitra) October 19, 2023
Moitra went on to assert that the affidavit had been orchestrated by the “Prime Minister’s Office” as an attempt to target her. She claimed that the BJP government was eager to silence her on the Adani issue.
Making a startling allegation, Moitra contended that Darshan Hiranandani had been coerced by the “Prime Minister’s Office” to sign the affidavit.
Meanwhile, Vinod Sonkar, Chairman of the Ethics Committee of Parliament, disclosed to India Today on October 20, that he had not yet received Hiranandani’s letter regarding Moitra in the cash-for-query controversy. Sonkar emphasised that the committee would thoroughly examine the evidence, recognising the gravity of the situation. He stated, “The committee will scrutinize the matter. We have called on parties to present their evidence to the committee”.
TMC to part ways with Moitra
The cash-for-query dispute has now reached the Delhi High Court. During the proceedings, Moitra’s lawyer withdrew from the case citing a ‘conflict of interest.’ The next hearing is scheduled for October 31.
Responding to these developments, Dubey alleged that the TMC was attempting to influence the so-called ‘whistleblower’ Dehadrai. Some media reports and sources claimed that TMC is going to distance itself from Moitra following this controversy. Earlier, in July, the Trinamool Congress distanced itself from Mahua Moitra’s remarks calling Goddess Kali a “meat-eating and alcohol-accepting goddess.”