Indian minister MJ Akbar called the multiple allegations of sexual assault against him “wild and baseless” on Sunday, and said he plans to take legal action against the women who have made the accusations.
At least 10 women have gone public in the past week with accounts of having faced inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment from Akbar, a seasoned journalist who is now minister of state for external affairs in the Indian government.
Akbar, a veteran editor who founded several newspapers and magazines in India, is accused of a range of inappropriate behaviour by female journalists who previously worked as his subordinates.
It is for the Prime Minister to speak on this issue, let the country judge its PM by his actions. So far his silence is conspicuous. His silence is unacceptable... [He] should make his views known on the issue.
- Anand Sharma | Congress party spokesman
“The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice,” said Akbar in a one-page statement. “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,” said the 67-year-old minister.
He was on an official trip in Nigeria last week when the allegations first surfaced as part of the #MeToo campaign sweeping India. But there was no word from the Narendra Modi government or the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as to whether he would continue in the government amid shrill demands by the Congress-party led opposition and on social media for his resignation.
Ten women have complained. Are all of them lying? The case should at least be investigated... At the same time, it is crucial for women to be true. I would really urge women to tell the truth.
- Swati Maliwal | Delhi Commission for Women chief
“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,” Akbar said.
The #MeToo movement that began in the US in response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in media and entertainment, has spread to India in the last few weeks after a Bollywood actress accused a colleague of inappropriate behaviour on the sets of a film they were shooting in 2008. Since then, over a dozen men in the worlds of media, entertainment and the arts have been accused of offences ranging from sexual harassment to rape.
Akbar in his statement said he plans to fight the allegations and questioned whether the allegations were politically motivated. “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge,” he said.
Earlier, BJP president Amit Shah said that he was not in a position to comment on Akbar. “It’s difficult to comment on something that comes on a website. One can put anything on a website. So, this needs to be checked. If that is true or false, whether such an incident happened or not,” Shah said. “It will have to be seen if it is the same person who is levelling allegations or someone else has put it up [on social media]. All these things will have to be seen. And once we do it, we will certainly think over it [the action against Akbar],” he added.
It’s difficult to comment on something that comes on a website. One can put anything on a website. So, this needs to be checked... If that is true or false, whether such an incident happened or not.
- Amit Shah | BJP president
WHAT DID THE WOMEN SAY?
■ On Friday, US-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp told online news portal HuffPost India that former editor and now junior Indian foreign minister MJ Akbar forcibly kissed her on the last day of her internship at The Asian Age office in 2007.
■ Last week, FORCE magazine executive editor Ghazala Wahab, in an article on a news portal, wrote an account of her “harrowing experience” with Akbar.
■ Former Mint Lounge editor Priya Ramani, who wrote about a predatory “celebrity editor” without naming anyone in a piece last year, on Monday publicly identified Akbar as the central character of her piece. “I began this piece with my M.J. Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator — maybe they’ll share,” she said.
■ Journalist Shutapa Paul recalled in a series of tweets that as the India Today editor, whenever Akbar came to Kolkata, he would invite her to his hotel, usually after 8 pm. He would then drink alcohol and ask her to also do so.
■ Other women journalists who have levelled allegations against Akbar include Prerna Singh Bindra, Sujata Anandan, Shuma Raha, Harinder Baweja and Anju Bharti.
WHO IS MJ AKBAR?
■ Born on January 11, 1951 in a Bihari family based in West Bengal’s Hooghly district, Mobashar Jawed Akbar is a veteran Indian editor, author and politician, who is currently the Minister of State for External Affairs, and a Member of Parliament in the Upper House of Rajya Sabha, from Madhya Pradesh.
■ Akbar first served as an elected Member of Parliament between 1989 and 1991 under the Congress party, and returned to public life in March 2014, when he joined the BJP and was appointed national spokesperson during the 2014 general elections. He was inducted into the Narendra Modi government as a minister in July 2016.
■ During his long career in journalism, Akbar launched India’s first weekly political news magazine, Sunday, in 1976, and two daily newspapers, The Telegraph and The Asian Age in 1989 and 1994.
■ He has written several non-fiction books, including a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru, a book on Kashmir, and The Shade of Swords: A History of Jihad.