India parliament expels firebrand MP Mahua Moitra on bribery allegations

India parliament expels firebrand MP Mahua Moitra on bribery allegations
India parliament expels firebrand MP Mahua Moitra on bribery allegations

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - NEW DELHI — India's parliament has expelled an opposition lawmaker who was accused of taking bribes in exchange for asking questions.

Mahua Moitra, who has denied the allegations, said she was expelled "without proof".

She has the option to challenge the decision in court.

Friday's expulsion followed a resolution passed by lawmakers in the Lok Sabha -- lower house of parliament -- after a voice vote.

Earlier in the day, an ethics panel report that recommended Ms Moitra's expulsion was tabled in the house. Opposition lawmakers had asked for more time to study the almost-500-page report before debating it, but the speaker did not agree to this.

"Heavens would not have fallen had we been given three-four days to take cognizance of this report and then keep our opinions before the house because it is going to make a decision on a very sensitive matter," Congress MP Manish Tewari said during the debate.

Ms Moitra is from the Trinamool Congress, which is in power in West Bengal state. She is known to be a fierce critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has a majority in the Lok Sabha.

Her party colleagues had held a protest in the house on Friday, raising slogans in Ms Moitra's defense. The session was adjourned for an hour before lawmakers reassembled for the debate.

Trinamool Congress leaders called the report an "eyewash" and repeated their stance that the bribery allegation was unfounded. They and other opposition leaders have alleged that Ms Moitra was targeted for her criticism of Modi's party.

Speaker Om Birla did not allow Ms Moitra to speak in the house on Friday, saying that she had been given the chance to defend herself in front of the ethics committee. Ms Moitra had walked out during questioning by the committee, accusing them of "unethical, sordid and prejudiced behavior".

The controversy began in October when BJP MP Nishikant Dubey filed a complaint against Ms Moitra, alleging that she had asked several questions targeting the Adani Group -- a conglomerate owned by one of Asia's richest men, Gautam Adani -- in exchange for gifts and cash from a businessman called Darshan Hiranandani.

Adani is perceived as being close to Modi and has long faced allegations from opposition politicians that he has benefited from his political ties, which the businessman and the BJP deny.

Earlier this year, a US-based short-seller Hindenburg had accused Adani of engaging in decades of "brazen" stock manipulation and accounting fraud. The Adani Group has denied these allegations, calling the report "malicious".

In his complaint, Dubey claimed that "until quite recently", 50 of 61 questions Ms Moitra asked in the Lok Sabha were focused on the Adani Group and accused her of accepting bribes adding up to 20m rupees ($240,542; £197,700) from Mr Hiranandani. Ms Moitra has strongly denied this.

The BJP leader alleged he had received "irrefutable evidence" against Ms Moitra from an advocate named Jai Anant Dehadrai -- whom Ms Moitra has described as a "jilted ex".

Hiranandani also submitted an affidavit before the ethics committee, accusing the TMC leader of targeting Adani "for becoming famous". Ms Moitra questioned the authenticity of the affidavit, but Mr Hiranandani said he had signed it "voluntarily".

Dubey's complaint also accused Ms Moitra of sharing her parliamentary login credentials with Mr Hiranandani so that he "could post questions directly on her behalf when required".

Ms Moitra admitted that she had given her login details to the businessman, but said that she had not violated any rules in doing so.

She has filed defamation cases against Dubey and Dehadrai in the Delhi high court. — BBC

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