New Delhi: Giving clear indication of not resigning from the post of Minister of State for External Affairs, MJ Akbar, who is facing allegations of sexual harassment by several women journalists, on Sunday called the charges “false, wild and baseless” and threatened to take legal action against accusers.
Hours after his return from a trip to Africa, Akbar issued a detailed a statement, trashing the statements levelled against him and adding that his lawyers will look into the allegations.
“Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action,” Akbar was quoted by news agency ANI as saying.
“The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad,” he added.
The Union minister further questioned the timing of the allegations, asking why this storm has risen a few months before a general election. ““Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill,” he said.
“Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. I will be taking appropriate legal action,” said the 67-year-old former Editor of Asian Age.
Earlier today, on his return to India, Akbar evaded a barrage of questions from the media over the allegations and only said he would issue a statement later on. “There will be a statement later on,” he told reporters at the airport.
It was earlier reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi might take a final call on whether Akbar will resign from the ministerial post. According to unconfirmed media reports, Akbar had on Sunday written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) putting forward his side of story.
Rebutting Allegations Categorically
Referring to charges by former colleague Priya Ramani, who had written an article a year ago and now named him following the #MeToo campaign, Akbar said: “Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not, however, name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a Tweet: “Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything.
“If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There’s no story. But a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total, unsubstantiated hearsay; others confirm, on the record, that I didn’t do anything,” he said.
He referred to other journalists and said: “Shutapa Paul states, ‘the man never laid a hand on me’.
“‘Shuma Raha says, I must clarify, however, that he didn’t actually ‘do’ anything’. One woman, Anju Bharti, went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim.”
Akbar, a founding editor of The Telegraph daily and Sunday magazine, was a big name in the media industry before he joined politics in 1989 when he fought the Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket and became an MP.
He joined BJP ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh, he was inducted into the Modi government in July 2016.
Rebutting allegations by some others, Akbar said: “Another accusation was made repeatedly by Ghazala Wahab, in an effort to damage my reputation. She claimed that she had been molested in office, 21 years ago. This is 16 years before I entered public life, and when I was in media.
“The only office where I worked with Ghazala Wahab was that of The Asian Age. A part of the editorial team then worked out of a small hall. At the time concerned, I had a very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass. Others had tables and chairs two feet away.
“It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless.
“Pertinent to remember Ramani and Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; clearly establishes they had no apprehension and discomfort. Reason why they remained silent for decades is very apparent, as Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything,” he added.
Multiple women in the last few days have come out with accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Akbar when he was a journalist as the #MeToo movement swept social media, bringing to fore sordid tales of sexual harassment by influential men in different walks of life.
Akbar’s name cropped up on social media earlier this week as part of the #MeToo movement and since then pressure has been increasing on the government to sack him. The Congress has already demanded Akbar’s ouster.
MJ Akbar Should Resign if Found Guilty, Says Ramdas Athwale
Union minister Ramdas Athwale said Akbar should resign if the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him were found to be true.
However, he also cautioned that the #MeToo movement should not become a platform to level baseless allegations.
“If someone is insulting women, action should be taken against such an individual. Even if personalities like Nana Patekar or M J Akbar are found guilty, action should be taken against them,” Athawale said.
“If someone is guilty, the person should be punished. But according to me, there is a possibility that the platform could be used to implicate someone in a false case. Police should verify such allegations,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar was quoted by ANI saying, “Prabhupada Swami always talked about character building and used to say ‘if you lose character it is a real loss’. What we’re witnessing today in #MeToo movement is a reflection of what is happening around and this value education becomes important.”
Congress Steps up Attack on Govt, Questions PM’s Silence
Congress leader Salman Khurshid slammed Akbar and the BJP government over their “interesting intransigence” in the #MeToo movement. In his tweet, Khurshi launched a scathing attack on Akbar while raising questions on the government’s pro-women policies including the Triple Talaq ordinance and the ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’ scheme.
“Interesting intrangience of govt in #MeToo, Is it fear of cutting close to the bone? Or Et tu Brute? Defence of ideology? Fear of flood gates? Jail for Triple talaq but not for Predatory Practices? Sarkar Bachao greater than Beti Bachao? Not mann,Tan ki baat? (sic),” he tweeted.
“Clear that this govt is morally depraved, financially corrupt, socially offending, professionally incompetent, ethically insensitive, culturally daft, emotionally inhuman, democratically disastrous, politically hypocritical, historically worst (sic),” he added.
Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi also slammed the Union minister’s allegations of ‘political controversy’ and alleged that the ‘government is actively protecting and promoting the sexual perverts’.
“I wonder how over a dozen women sharing their experiences can be claimed as political conspiracy? Bigger wonder is which constituency does his stepping down impact in elections? The only clear answer is that this government is actively protecting & promoting the sexual perverts (sic),” she tweeted.
Earlier on Sunday, the Congress cornered the Modi government over the issue, and demanded PM Modi to clear to take a stand on it.
“The PM’s silence is conspicuous. A PM who speaks on everything is silent on #MeToo. The silence raises questions on the dignity of the PM’s office. The country has been waiting for days for PM Modi’s to clear his stand on this,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said at a press conference.
Govt’s Stand on The Issue
The allegations of sexual harassment against the former editor seem to have cast a shadow on the Narendra Modi government’s push for women’s economic and social empowerment with its flagship schemes like Ujjwala, Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Mudra and the Triple Talaq ordinance.
While top BJP brass including External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and party spokesperson, have dodged questions on Akbar, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi was the first party leader to call for an investigation against him.
“There should be an investigation. Men in position of power often do this. This applies to media, politics and seniors working in companies. Now that women have started speaking out, we should take it seriously,” Gandhi told India Today.
“Women are scared of speaking out thinking people will make fun of them or question their character. Now that women are speaking up we should take action on each and every allegation,” she added.