Despite multiple reports suggesting that Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar had resigned, the minister, in a statement said that will not resign and would be taking legal action. This comes after the minister was accused of sexual harassment and misconduct by multiple women throughout his career as a journalist.
Calls for the minister to step down had grown louder after 12 women – Priya Ramani, Shuma Raha, Prerna Singh, Kanika Gahlaut, Suparna Sharma, Harinder Baweja, Saba Naqvi, Shutapa Paul, Ghazala Wahab, Anju Bharti, Kadambari Wade and Ruth David – had put on record their gut-wrenching stories of sexual harassment, sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour by the minister.
The minister called the allegations against him as “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice”.
“Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action,” MJ Akbar said.
MJ Akbar claimed that the charges were baseless, and hinted that there might be an agenda because the 2019 general elections are only a few months away.
“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,” he said.
MJ Akbar then went on to address the women who came forward and accused him. The first one to name MJ Akbar was Priya Ramani. Responding to her, he said that he had not been named earlier because it was “an incorrect story”.
“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 that it was 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 and unsubstantiated hearsay. Others confirm, on the record, that I didn’t do anything,” he added.
He then went on to respond to the allegations made by Shutapa Paul, Shuma Raha and Anju Bharti.
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,” his statement said.
He then addressed the allegations made by Ghazala Wahab in a piece for the Wire.
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.
Attacking Ghazala, he said that she wanted to damage his reputation and that “it is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space. 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”.
“The only office where I worked with her 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,” he said.
MJ Akbar went on to state that the person Ghazala complained to, features writer Veenu Sandal, “described Ms Wahab’s version as nonsense, in an interview to the Indian Express.”
“Ms Sandal has also said that she has never heard, in 20 years, anybody accusing me of any such thing,” he added.
In order to further defend himself, the former editor said both Priya Ramani and Ghazala Wahab continued to work with him, and hence had no apprehension or discomfort. “The reason for why they remained silent for decades is very apparent. As Ms Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything,” he said.
There was a common pattern to accounts of women who accused him – he would set up job interviews with aspiring women journalists in hotel rooms, repeatedly call them to his office cabin for meaningless conversation and chatter, entice them with major stories, send them out of the workplace and meet them at a hotel at odd hours.
The former NDA minister MJ Akbar previously held various senior positions in multiple news media organisations, including The Telegraph, Asian Age and India Today. He returned to the country from a foreign trip on Sunday.