#MeToo: After MJ Akbar refuses to resign, Congress ups its ante against BJP minister

New Delhi: After MJ Akbar’s rejection of #MeToo allegations, a political uproar emerged on Sunday where the opposition launched sharp attacks at the junior foreign minister for his stand on the issue.

Earlier on Sunday, Akbar declined to quit from the government over charges of sexual harassment levelled against him by former colleagues from when he was a journalist. He also warned of legal action against the accusers – who have shared their allegations on the social media under the #MeToo campaign.

In a statement released hours after he returned to India from an official trip, Akbar described the charges as politically motivated, “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice”, and said he would take legal action.

My lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action,” he said.

Akbar, who returned from a week-long tour to Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria, said in his statement: “Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge.”

Congress targets Akbar

  • The Congress responded soon after through spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi, who tweeted: “I wonder how over a dozen women sharing their experiences can be claimed as political conspiracy? Bigger wonder is which constituency does his stepping down impact in elections?”
  • A senior functionary in the party said on condition of anonymity that Mahila Congress – the women’s wing of the party – will launch a nationwide campaign from Monday, starting from Akbar’s residence in New Delhi.
  • Hours before Akbar’s statement, the Congress had targeted Prime Minister Modi for being silent on the issue. “Let the country judge the Prime Minister by his actions. So far, his silence has been conspicuous. A Prime Minister, who swears by ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, a Prime Minister who talks of women’s dignity …..This Prime Minister has chosen to be silent,” senior leader Anand Sharma had said, referring to the government’s flagship schemes for women’s empowerment.

‘MJ Akbar’s behaviour was notorious, lecherous’

  • Responding to the stand taken by the Modi government and the silence of women ministers like Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani and Maneka Gandhi, senior journalist Ghazala Wahab, who has accused Akbar of sexual misconduct, accused them of “treachery”.
  • Questioning their silence on sexual harassment allegations against a Union minister by at least 11 women, she quoted a couplet: “Kahoon kis tarah se ke woh bewafa hai, Mujhe uski majbooriyon ka pata hai (How can I call out their treachery when I know their compulsions),” she wrote in a tweet.
  • Chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, Swati Jai Hind also attacked MJ Akbar and said his behavior was “notorious” and “lecherous”.
  • She asked if all women are making false allegations against Akbar. “They are after your seat in Parliament? What a moron MJ Akbar is! If anyone is impacting BJP adversely today, it is MJ Akbar for his notoriety and lecherous behavior,” she said.
  • The DCW chief also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the entire controversy. She said PM Modi’s “silence” and “inaction” is “unbelievable”.

The Union government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have largely been silent since the allegations surfaced, and have maintained that the allegations do not concern the government or Akbar’s tenure as minister, and that it is up to him to clarify and take a stand.

A BJP functionary, explaining the position of the party, said on Sunday that the minister will have a chance to present his case and address the accusations.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the ruling BJP, last week came out in support of the #MeToo movement. “The tweet that was put out by the joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale [supporting the movement] is an indication of the Sangh’s view,” a senior RSS functionary said on Sunday.