Giving no indication of resigning from the government, Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar, who is facing charges of sexual harassment and wrongdoing by at least 14 women, on Sunday called the allegations "false, wild and baseless" and vowed to take legal action against the accusers.
"Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned (from abroad), my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action," he said in a statement, hours after his return from an official trip to African nations.
Akbar was abroad when a number of female journalists, who had worked with him at newspapers over 15 years ago, accused him of sexual misconduct as part of the #MeToo campaign. In his statement on Sunday, he questioned whether there was an agenda in the allegations as they had been made ahead of the 2019 general elections.
"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."
While Akbar issued a statement, there was no official word from the government, or the ruling BJP on whether he would continue as the junior minister of foreign affairs amid demands for his resignation. However, earlier in the day, a senior minister told Firstpost that Akbar would be "asked to go" after his return from his trip to Africa.
"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 The Asian Age.
Referring to charges by former colleague Priya Ramani, who had written an article a year ago and now named him in the #MeToo movement, 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.
Referring to other journalists who accused him of sexual harassment, Akbar 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."
Rebutting the allegations by 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.
Akbar, a founding editor of The Telegraph daily and founder of 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 the 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.
As mentioned in this article, Akbar faces a slew of charges of sexual harassment from multiple women — from forcing himself on a colleague in his cabin to rendering female colleagues "invisible in the organisation" for having rejected his advances.
Akbar's statement condemned
The Congress issued a strong condemnation of Akbar's statement, with party spokesperson Sanjay Jha saying, "(Akbar's statement) adds insult to injury and humiliation. Let this be a tipping point moment for the #MeToo #MeTooIndia movement. Don't be intimidated. This is the time to rise even further. This is the time to fight back."
Earlier in the day, Congress leader Anand Sharma had urged Prime Minster Narendra Modi to speak up on the allegations against Akbar, saying it was a question of women's dignity.
Union minister Ramdas Athawale also reacted on the subject, saying, "If someone is insulting women, action should be taken against such an individual. Even if personalities like Nana Patekar or MJ Akbar are found guilty, action should be taken against them." He, however, cautioned against using the campaign to falsely implicate people.
Journalists and others alike, too, condemned Akbar's statement and rejection of the allegations against him. They especially criticised his attempt to draw a link between the accusations of sexual harassment that at least 14 women made against him with the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Journalist Harinder Baweja, one of the women who accused Akbar of sexual harassment, tweeted: "All the women who tried to deal with the trauma for two to three decades and were now encouraged to share their pain had the general election in mind. How absurd... The only 'agenda', to borrow the word from MJ Akbar's statement, is was and will be simply this: enough is enough."
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Oct 14, 2018 23:57:01 IST