Nidhi Razdan: What makes Mahua Moitra so special in India? Video Credit: Gulf News

“This $@#$! doesn’t bother me, and you can quote me on this in that language”! This is the feisty Trinamool Congress (TMC) Lok Sabha MP, Mahua Moitra, answering my question on whether she felt she was disproportionately targeted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because she is a woman politician.

"If I feel it is right, then we have to do it, that is why we are in public life", she said to me in an interview to Gulf News for this piece.

Mahua Moitra is one of India's most outspoken political leaders. She is articulate, blunt and no nonsense. She has been at the forefront of many key issues, sometimes taking the fight to India’s Supreme Court such as in the Bilkis Bano case.

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BJP's bete noire

Lately, Moitra has been consistently hitting out at the government over the Adani issue. And the BJP does not like it. You often see her name trending on Twitter, as BJP supporters and leaders go after her online. “Everyone asks me how do you put up with the trolls, but the truth is I actually find it funny”, she told me.

One of the controversies that dominated the headlines in recent months was Moitra’s Louis Vuitton handbag. She was criticised for being “out of touch” with the masses for carrying an expensive handbag and then taking on the government for rising prices.

But the TMC MP was totally unapologetic, and gave it back. Yes I have an expensive bag, because I can afford it, she shot back. “I am not a fashion queen, it is not that I come in with a different handbag every single day," Mahua Moitra told Gulf News.

"I have one handbag. Its not even relevant. If I were to go on about the watches and the pens and the shoes that the BJP MPs wear, then there would be no end to it. Have you seen the shoes and watches of the male MPs?… I carry a nice bag, I was an investment banker, I have a life, I am not a hypocrite.”

A remarkable journey

Its been quite a remarkable political journey for the 48 year old Moitra. She had a jet setting career as an investment banker in the US and the UK before she gave that up to join the rough and tumble of Indian politics.

Born in Assam in 1974, Mahua Moitra spent most of her childhood in Kolkata and Assam and then went to study at the prestigious Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in the United States. In 2008, she left her job at JP Morgan in London to come back to India and in 2010, she joined Mamata Banerjee’s party, the TMC.

In 2019, she was elected to parliament from the Krishnanagar constituency.

I asked her if she missed her old job. “I miss the academic rigour of it,” she said, “I miss an environment with people who intellectually motivated me all the time. I worked with very smart people. I sometimes feel that the intellectual mediocrity of where I am, gets to me and this may sound patronising, but so be it," she says.

Absence of Women's Reservation Bill

India has only 78 women MPs out of a total of 543 in the Lok Sabha. A Women’s Reservation Bill that seeks to reserve 33 percent of seats for women, has been pending for nearly 25 years now.

“In India unfortunately only the TMC and the BJD have got 37 and 38% women in parliament in the absence of such a bill," Moitra says.

“You don’t need a law to tell you to do the right thing but the world doesn’t work like that. Why do we need a women’s bill, why don’t you (other parties) just give tickets to 50% or 40% of women but the fact is for years and years they haven’t done it and we are abysmal, we are just 12% women in the Indian parliament which is among the lowest in the world."

Mahua Moitra however also believes we have to stop seeing politics through the prism of gender.

“I don’t have to be viewed as a woman first and then a politician. What I do defines me. Does anyone ask a male politician what it feels like to be a male politician. I don’t view my gender as my defining quality. I am sitting in parliament because I am an elected representative, not because I am a woman.”