New Delhi: Former Union minister MJ Akbar came face to face with journalist Priya Ramani during a courtroom battle on Saturday. Akbar, who has slapped a criminal defamation suit against Ramani for going public with sexual misconduct allegations against him, recorded his statement in the case. When it came to the cross-examination, however, Akbar did not reveal much, choosing instead to claim that he did not have much memory of what happened then.
Several prominent women journalists were also in attendance in court, in a show of support to Ramani.
Akbar, who appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal, said the allegations made by Ramani were "unwarranted, defamatory and mala fide". India's one-time Minister of State for External Affairs, Akbar began by essaying his careergraph — often a technical necessity in defamation cases, seeing that to put forth such a charge one would need to prove that there was a reputation of some worth to begin with in the court.
After speaking of his lengthy career spanning several publication houses and ultimately in the North Block, Akbar went on to say that he was in Africa when the allegation against him was levelled by Priya Ramani. "There was a curious anomaly. The original article in Vogue did not contain my name. I can infer that this was because the inclusion of my name would have been defamatory. The tweet however referred specifically to me, MJ Akbar," he said, alleging that the allegations had adversely affected his public life.
Senior advocate Rebecca John, appearing for Ramani, then began her cross examination of Akbar, represented by senior advocate Geeta Luthra, on the intricacies regarding Ramani joining The Asian Age and other case details. However, Akbar responded to most of the questions with "I do not remember".
John began with an examination of why Akbar had not mentioned in his detailed deposition that he had been a Congress MP from Bihar's Kishan Ganj from 1989 to 2002, a spokesperson of the party in 1988, and that he had lost on a Congress ticket in 1991. Moving on from her allegation of Akbar's "political opportunism", displayed by several U-turns in his political career, John went on to ask him if the Delhi High Court had indeed issued a contempt notice to him in 2003, when he was editor-in-chief of The Asian Age for "deliberate false reporting court proceedings."
A verbal battle broke out between Luthra and John over the former's interjections several times in the course of the cross-examination at this point. This was also the point from which onwards Akbar noted not remembering much. Among things he claimed to have never known or forgotten were where Ramani studied, whether he had asked her to meet at a hotel after 7 pm, and whether a friend had dropped her to the hotel.
Proceedings then had to be stopped for the day as Akbar's counsel claimed he had engagements for the day. Judge Vishal, while agreeing to the request, ended with a curt advice to "come prepared for the full day on the next date."
The court posted the matter for the next hearing on 20 May.
Akbar, who resigned as Union minister on 17 October last year, had filed a private criminal defamation complaint against Ramani after his name cropped up on social media as the #MeToo campaign raged on in India.
Ramani has accused Akbar of sexual misconduct around 20 years ago when he was a journalist. Akbar has denied the accusations.
With inputs from Bar & Bench and PTI
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Updated Date: May 04, 2019 15:33:53 IST