New Delhi: Union Minister M J Akbar on Sunday refuted the allegations of sexual harassment over him as “false, baseless and wild”, adding that he will take “appropriate legal action” against the accusations levelled on him.

The Minister of State for External Affairs, who returned to India from an overseas trip today, released a detailed statement against the allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by a number of women journalists in the last few days.

“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.

Questioning the timing of the allegations made against him ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Akbar said, “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.”

“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,” the minister added.

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. While Akbar denied allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him, the Union minister kept mum on reports of him stepping down from the ministerial post.

Earlier today, on his return from Nigeria, Akbar, a former journalist, 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.

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.

There was an indication by the BJP that it is likely to take a clear stand on allegations of sexual harassment against Akbar once he explains his position upon his return.

While the Bharatiya Janata Party has maintained a studied silence on the matter so far, party sources have said the charges against him are serious, and his continuance as a minister is no longer guaranteed.