National

#MeToo: M.J. Akbar quits a day ahead of hearing in defamation case

M.J. Akbar at his residence in New Delhi on October 14, 2018.

M.J. Akbar at his residence in New Delhi on October 14, 2018.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Nine days after a journalist first accused Minister of State for External Affairs M.J. Akbar of sexual harassment during his previous role as newspaper editor, Mr. Akbar resigned from office. The accusation, which set off a series of similar allegations from about 15 former colleagues, led to Mr. Akbar filing a defamation case against the journalist, Priya Ramani. In a statement on Wednesday evening, Mr. Akbar said he deemed it “appropriate” to resign before the case is to be taken up on Thursday in the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s court in Delhi. “Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levelled against me, also in a personal capacity,” Mr. Akbar said.

Later in the day, a Rashtrapathi Bhavan communique said Mr. Akbar’s resignation has been accepted “as advised by the Prime Minister”.

 

Mr. Akbar’s statement announcing his resignation on Wednesday was in sharp contrast to the defiant note he struck on Sunday, when he refused to step down and hinted at a political agenda to the timing of the allegations of sexual harassment against him by women journalists “ahead of elections”.

The government also seemed to support his stand as he appeared with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for official meetings on Monday and met with National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

However, the issue snowballed subsequently, and on Tuesday evening a statement signed by 20 journalists added to the accounts from those who had worked at various times with Mr. Akbar at the Asian Age, The Telegraph newspaper, The Sunday magazine and the Deccan Chronicle, and were willing to testify against him. One particularly damaging account came from a young journalist who claimed Mr. Akbar had invited her to his room, and greeted her wearing only his underwear.

According to government sources, in the wake of all the allegations it would have been difficult to explain Mr. Akbar’s appearance in court on Thursday as a serving government Minister.

“The government felt that it was his call since the allegations pertained to his stint in the media and did not have anything to with his work as a minister, but once he decided to go to court, then a call was taken that he should do this independently, as a citizen of the country rather than a part of the government,” said a senior minister.

According to sources, the RSS also put pressure on the government including a very public endorsement of the #MeToo movement by the organisation’s joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale. “It was felt that till now the Modi government had successfully avoided major taints, scams etc, why should they allow the negativity of this issue to attach itself,” said a source. Mr. Akbar is the first minister to step down in this manner under public pressure during PM Modi’s tenure.

‘We feel vindicated’

Reacting to the resignation, journalist Priya Ramani against whom Mr. Akbar filed the defamation case, tweeted, “As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court.”

Another journalist Ghazala Wahab, who has accused Mr. Akbar of molesting her in office told The Hindu that she would support Ms. Ramani in court. “I feel euphoric. I would like to believe that he responded to voice of conscience. I would not see it as a beginning or end of the #MeToo movement, which I hope gathers further momentum and reaches small towns and villages too.”

Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Aug 8, 2020 3:21:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/mj-akbar-resigns-as-mos-external-affairs-after-metoo-allegations/article25249440.ece

Next Story