THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 26 JUNE, 2019
Who is Mahua Moitra?
Who is Mahua Moitra?
Her maiden speech in the Lok Sabha has made her a national, even international celebrity, with the video being circulated in the millions. Mahua Moitra, 44, created waves outside Parliament when she said all that the entire Opposition put together has been hesitant to articulate, and did so with visible courage and determination that had her repeatedly asking the Lok Sabha Speaker to control the other side. And to allow her to speak uninterrupted.
There was little Moitra did not say, shushing even the BJP MPs into silence, and extracting several extra minutes from the Speaker for her ‘maiden’ speech. The BJP was linked with fascism with her words received in silence, an indication of what a forceful presentation can achieve.
But who is this charming lady? She was seen on television channels earlier as a Youth Congress leader, and is now in the spotlights as an MP of the Trinamool Congress who shattered the ceiling with her first speech in the Lok Sabha.
Moitra is a corporate honcho who was vice-president of JP Morgan before returning to India in 2008 to join politics. She worked with Rahul Gandhi for a while, had a great rapport with him and was placed in charge of the Youth Congress in West Bengal, but eventually realised that the party was not really going anywhere and resigned.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, with her penchant for bringing in young people, got her into the party in 2010, and six years later she was given an Assembly ticket from Kolkata and won. She was elevated to general secretary of the TMC and its spokesperson, honours that the Congress has always been very hesitant about conferring on its younger members.
But Mamata Banerjee had no such reservations, and Moitra was fielded for the Lok Sabha elections this year and emerged a winner, a first time MP from the Krishnanagar parliamentary constituency in West Bengal.
Her rise within the party was evident when the TMC fielded her along with the more seasoned MP Derek O’Brien to speak on the motion of thanks to the President for his address to Parliament. While Brien is tweeting and re-tweeting his almost half-hour long speech, he has clearly lost the limelight to Moitra who has become a political sensation across the country.
Confident, assured, she spoke with the attitude of a pro as she raised her hand to silence the opposition benches when they became noisy, directly told the treasury benches to keep their counsel to themselves, and urged the Speaker repeatedly to maintain order in the House. She did not lose her cool but spoke with rare passion, using forceful and hardhitting arguments laced with poetry.
Moitra had a desultory two years in the Congress party, but has found her feet and is clearly poised to emerge as a top leader in the Trinamool Congress. She has had heated encounters with opinionated television anchors. And in 2017 as an MLA she filed a defamation case against playback singer Babul Supriyo, a BJP Minister in the central government, objecting to his televised remarks where he referred to her as ‘Mahua drunk on Mahua’ (this being a Bengali word also for local hooch). This was on January 4, 2011. He filed a countercase a week later saying she had made false allegations against him on a chit-fund scam.
The point is that this former corporate honcho is no wilting Lily. She gives back as good as she gets, and while glimpses of her were visible on television off and on, her Lok Sabha speech has catapulted her into a space from where she is unlikely ever to look back. Opposition MPs spoken to were all praise for Moitra, despite the fact that we questioned them on their silence. And the fact that a bold woman MP had gone where the seniors seemed to be reluctant to tread.
That she is not one to be cowed down was evident in early August last year. A delegation of Trinamool MPs including MLA Moitra and a party state Minister was stopped by a posse of Assam police as soon as they arrived at Silchar airport. The delegation had gone to speak to those being left out of the National Register of Citizens, and while Home Minister Rajnath Singh claimed in New Delhi that Moitra had assualted a woman cop she had a very different story to tell.
She said they were encircled by cops and prevented from leaving the airport. She and other members of the delegation fought back, but clearly Moitra was in the lead as the visuals then portrayed. She said it was completely illegal, that the police had no documents, and the delegation tried to leave but was physically stopped by the police force.
Moitra said then what she said in her speech to Parliament yesterday. That when seniors in politics could not produce documents to prove their education degrees, how did the government expect the poor majority to find documents to prove their existence, just because the onus had now been laid on them?
Mahua Moitra is unafraid of controversy, and while she does not revel in it, she certainly doesn’t shy away from it when she is convinced of a wrong. During the Lok Sabha polls she approached the Supreme Court stating that the Election Commission had not taken any decision on her complaint against BJP leader Mahadev Sarkar for allegedly making sexually coloured remarks against her. She alleged that the Nadia district president, in the presence of his party candidate Kalyan Chaubey, had made such remarks against her yet the EC hadn’t taken any action against him. The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi directed the EC to take immediate action on her complaint.
Moitra clearly enjoys the confidence of Mamata Banerjee, and has found her feet in the party that’s currently standing up for the rights she is so passionate about. Banerjee has approved six national spokespersons with Moitra being the only woman among them – the others are Derek O’Brien, Sudip Bandyopadhyay (the TMC Parliamentary Party Leader in the Lok Sabha) and MPs Saugata Roy, Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar and Dinesh Trivedi.
Moitra also has a case currently in the Supreme Court against the central government’s surveillance policy.
The Lok Sabha intervention thus was not a one-off, tutored speech but a reflection of who Moitra is, and what she believes in. An MP to watch out for.