Mahua Moitra’s Expulsion Does Not Augur Well for Indian Democracy!

by Nasir Khuehami  & Ummar Jamal

Mahua Moitra

Dissent serves as a cornerstone in the vitality of a thriving democracy. The capacity to challenge authority is intrinsic to the democratic process. When attempts to stifle dissenting voices replace the cultivation of constructive dialogue, it raises questions about the strength and resilience of the democratic framework. The repercussions become even more significant when such actions occur within the nation’s largest temple of democracy. The expulsion of Mahua Moitra from the Lok Sabha is not merely an attack on an individual legislator but a direct assault on the democratic principles that underpin the Indian political system. The conclusions of Ethics Committee are marred by a glaring lack of fairness. The principles of natural justice, a cornerstone of any fair legal process, appear to have been cast aside in favor of expediency.

 Thus far, the ‘system’ has penalized all three MPs who were habitually naming Adani in parliament. Rahul Gandhi lost membership amid a Gujarat court conviction, later stayed by the Supreme Court. AAP’s Sanjay Singh, imprisoned in Tihar Jail without bail, can no longer question Adani in parliament. Now TMC’s Mahua Moitra has been expelled on unfounded corruption charges, violating established procedures and natural justice norms. These events spotlight concerns about parliamentary discourse, democratic values, and the freedom of MPs to address public issues without repercussions. The expulsion of Moitra sets a perilous precedent for the future of parliamentary democracy in India. It sends a chilling message to all parliamentarians that their political careers could be jeopardized by orchestrated attacks on their character, regardless of the merits of the case.

P. D. Thankappan Achary, the former Secretary General of the 14th Lok Sabha and 15th Lok Sabha and Lok Sabha Secretariat, highlighted the procedural irregularities in referring such complaints to the Committee of Privileges for investigation. He emphasized that MPs facing such complaints should have the right to appear before the committee through an advocate, cross-examine the complainant and other witnesses, and ensure a fair and transparent investigation. The current scenario, however, seems to negate these fundamental rights, depriving the accused of a proper defense.

Achary’s observation also draws attention to the practical necessity wherein MPs often share passwords with personal assistants due to time constraints. This common practice, adopted by many parliamentarians, has been portrayed as a grave offense in Moitra’s case. The selective targeting of her actions sets a dangerous precedent.

 There is no direct evidence against Moitra. The only substantial evidence is IP login details provided by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. The absence of cross-examination for the accused further adds to the concerns. Therefore, comparing the recent situation to the 2005 suspension of 10 MPs is misguided, as the earlier case involved clear video evidence of bribery within the Parliament premises.

Furthermore, the expeditious handling of the case, with the 495-page report of the Parliamentary Ethics Committee being swiftly processed within a mere 30 minutes, raises questions about the depth of consideration given to Mahua Moitra’s case. She was not granted the opportunity to present her arguments, further undermining the principles of fairness and justice.

The jurisdiction of the Ethics Committee, empowered to address matters related to parliamentary conduct, has been wielded in a manner that raises questions about the legitimacy of the entire process. Instead of being referred to the Privileges Committee, the matter was directed to the Ethics Committee.  The Ethics Committee does not possess the authority to expel a duly elected member, representing the mandate of lakhs of people, without thorough consideration. Expulsion, a severe punishment typically reserved for contempt of the House or breaches of privilege, falls under the jurisdiction of the Privileges Committee.

At this juncture of time, it remains highly imperative for the judiciary to strike a delicate balance between upholding the integrity of parliamentary ethics and safeguarding against the arbitrary use of expulsion as a tool for political maneuvering. The Moitra case serves as a litmus test for protecting the rights of elected representatives.

In Raja Ram Pal case of 2007 Apex court of India underscored Parliament’s authority to expel its members, subject to judicial review. However, the interpretation of Article 101, which deals with the vacation of seats in Parliament, resulted in disagreements among the judges. While a majority of judges argued that expulsion fell within Parliament’s powers, a vocal minority expressed concerns over the exhaustive nature of Article 101. The article, which outlines various grounds for the vacation of seats, remains silent on expulsion, leading to a constitutional gray area.

A subsequent case, Amarinder Singh vs Special Committee, Punjab Vidhan Sabha, further added nuance to the discourse surrounding parliamentary expulsion.  The Supreme Court while declaring the expulsion of former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh as unconstitutional, emphasized the potential misuse of legislative privileges to target political opponents or dissenters, particularly concerning their legislative acts from previous terms.  

Moitra’s  expulsion from the Lok Sabha brings these legal precedents to the forefront, raising concerns about the potential misuse of parliamentary powers against political adversaries, even without a change in regime.

Parliament, being a creation of the Constitution, is not above the law. It is Important for the survival of democracy that the law applies equally to all cases, regardless of the individuals involved. Instances of abuse of power, such as Ramesh Badhuri’s use of racist slurs on the floor of the house and allegations of sexual harassment against Bribhujan, should have been addressed with the severity as was Moitra’s case dealt.

To conclude, this incident should serve as a wake-up call for the guardians of democracy to reevaluate the mechanisms in place for handling such allegations. Upholding the principles of natural justice, ensuring fairness in investigations, and protecting the rights of elected representatives are paramount to preserving the integrity of India’s democratic institutions. The repercussions of this expulsion should not be underestimated, as it has the potential to be wielded as a weapon against other political adversaries in the future.

Nasir Khuehami is the National Convenor of J&K Students Association. He is Pursuing Masters in Conflict Analysis and Peacebuilding from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. He can be reached out at [email protected].

Ummar Jamal is the National General Secretary of J&K Students Association. He is Pursuing BA. LLB from University of Kashmir. He can be reached at [email protected].

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