'MJ Akbar better positioned to speak on sexual harassment charges, not me': Smriti Irani refuses to comment

Even as the pressure grows on the Narendra Modi government to address the sexual harassment charges against Union minister MJ Akbar, Textiles Minister Smriti Irani on Thursday ducked questions on the allegations, saying the former journalist should issue a statement on the matter.

"The gentlemen concerned would be better positioned to speak on this issue. I appreciate that the media is accosting his female colleagues. But it is for the gentleman concerned to issue a statement, not me, because I was personally not present there," she told reporters, adding that "anybody who is speaking out should in no way be shamed, victimised or mocked".

"Women don’t go to work to be harassed. They go to work to live their dreams and earn a respectable living. I am hopeful that all these ladies who are speaking out get the justice that they deserve," Irani said.

Akbar, the Minister of State for External Affairs, who is currently on a visit to Nigeria, has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 10 women, so far, and has yet to respond to the allegations.

Irani's reaction came a day after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman refused to comment on the charges being levelled against Akbar. In another reaction from the Union Cabinet, Union minister Ramdas Athawale said that there was a need to hear Akbar's statement. "There should be an investigation, if he is found to be guilty then he should resign," he said.

After the allegations had initially surfaced, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, too, had evaded questions by the media on what action she would take against her junior minister.

Several parties, including the Congress, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Samajwadi Party and Communist Party of India (Marxist), have demanded Akbar's resignation. The Congress on Wednesday had said he must either offer a satisfactory explanation for the allegations or resign immediately.

On Wednesday, Congress spokesperson S Jaipal Reddy had said: "I think Mr MJ Akbar must either offer a satisfactory explanation or must resign forthwith. How can he be in the ministry with this serious allegation being levelled against him by a responsible journalist who worked with him? Let there be an inquiry into this. We demand an inquiry into Akbar's conduct."

In a statement on Thursday, the CPM said, "Since these are serious charges, MJ Akbar's continuance as a minister of state in the central government is untenable. He should immediately resign from office."

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Oct 11, 2018 18:40:18 IST

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