Mahua Moitra, a 49-year-old Lok Sabha Member of Parliament in India from the Trinamool Congress, is currently under siege, with the beleaguered politician facing accusations of taking bribes to pose questions in Parliament against billionaire Gautam Adani.
Moitra stands accused of accepting cash, jewellery, renovating her official residence, and receiving high-end luxury items from Darshan Hiranandani, a rival billionaire to Adani. Furthermore, Moitra is alleged to have shared her Parliamentary login details with Hiranandani, which is a serious matter.
A former banker, Moitra is known for her feisty and confident demeanour, having made powerful enemies during her relatively short political career.
She is unapologetic about her indulgence in a luxurious lifestyle, including designer bags and clothing, and does not adhere to the traditional expectations of public figures. This perhaps explains why she currently finds herself isolated, with even her own party barely offering support.
Custody battle over Henry
This forms the foreground of the scandal currently engulfing the diminutive MP. The background of the scandal involves a bitter break-up with her former live-in partner and a dispute over the custody of a 3-year-old Rottweiler dog named Henry, whom both parties accuse each other of stealing.
Jai Anant Dehadrai, a lawyer, and Moitra lived together for three years before their acrimonious split. Multiple police complaints were filed against each other regarding the dog, and Moitra currently has custody of Henry.
Dehadrai, who earned his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, is the complainant in the case filed with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Ethics Committee of Parliament, which has the authority to strip Moitra of her House membership. The Ethics committee comprises 10 BJP members and five from the opposition.
Paying the price for outspokenness
Making matters worse for Moitra, her former friend Hiranandani has turned against her and is now an approver in the case, substantially confirming all the charges made by Dehadrai. Both Dehadrai and Hiranandani will testify against Moitra before the committee, and the TMC has indicated that they will decide on the course of action post the hearing.
Moitra has sent legal defamation notices to all the involved parties but is waging a solitary battle. Private images of her drinking and smoking have been leaked, accompanied by an abusive hashtag.
Slandering her seems to be the sole occupation of her political rivals these days. In many ways, Mahua’s story serves as a cautionary tale about how women in Indian politics are treated when they deviate from traditional patriarchal norms in their private lives.
Moitra is paying the price for her outspokenness in a predominantly male political landscape that protects its own. Initially, she joined the Congress with hopes of working alongside Rahul Gandhi, the former Congress President.
Raising significant issues in the House
However, the Congress party’s efforts to keep her ineffective prompted an impatient Moitra to switch to the TMC. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal and TMC supremo, has publicly reprimanded Moitra, expressing impatience with her high-profile persona.
What lies ahead for Moitra? With around 25 years of experience covering politics, I have never witnessed a female leader enduring the kind of relentless attacks and slander that Moitra is currently facing. While Moitra may be resilient, no woman should have to endure such sexist treatment.
Moitra has undoubtedly made serious errors in judgement, especially in her choice of partners. However, it’s worth noting that several male politicians, from various parties, have experienced break-ups, affairs, and remarriages without raising many eyebrows.
Moitra might have assumed she would receive a pass for emulating her male colleagues, but she has discovered that different standards apply to women leaders. They are expected to maintain a higher moral standard to succeed in politics. The most damaging allegation is the shared login, but the committee will need to establish a money trail to Moitra before revoking her membership.
On balance, Moitra has been an effective MP, raising significant issues in the House. Perhaps the applause went to her head, leading her to take shortcuts, believing she was entitled to different standards. Let’s watch this space.