[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he lesser known ‘MJ’ has quit his job post-MeToo accusations, but the more famous ‘MJ’ continues to maintain a wall of silence to multiple accusations of #MeToo surfacing against him online. Maybe, it’s because journalist Mayank Jain’s employer Business Standard decided to act, set a standard, while the other MJ’s employer, the Modi government, believes MJ Akbar and his “bottles of wine” are stories with no legs to stand on.
Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar, when he was editor-Mighty apparently, was always ready to launch into affairs with nubile young aspiring journalists. Some of the advances he held forth must have fetched cooperation but the ones who are speaking up against him are those who “felt uncomfortable” in his “predatory presence”, those who were invited to his hotel room, the bed made just perfect to jump in, the music playing and the champagne bubbling.
But it was wine ‘Great Editor’ MJ preferred, say his accusers, to ply in his five-star hotel rooms. Grapevine and other vines say MJ is protected. Till the other day he was in Nigeria, attending to diplomacy. Around the same time, senior ministers in the BJP government were told to stay mum, especially EAM Sushma Swaraj, who diplomatically walked on like she had her earpiece home. Her minister-colleague Maneka Gandhi extended support to #MeToo but stopped short of naming ‘Akbar the Great.’
MJ Akbar’s picks for jobs, where he headed the newsroom, began to “share their encounters with Akbar” after journalist Priya Ramani reiterated an allegation going back to October 2017 when she wrote, without naming MJ, he invited her to a hotel room in Mumbai for her job interview and made “uncomfortable advances”. They were 20 years apart in age!
At the time nothing much happened but after the latest and current #MeToo surge in India, Ramani “named” MJ and since then it’s a deluge of “MJ predator stories” one after the other. All of them from women who Akbar invited to his hotel room for interviews and made them feel “uncomfortable”. He also “invited himself” to the homes of female recruits with a bottle of wine in hand or “for a coffee!” One single mother, who kept him standing on the door and wouldn’t let him in, felt the singe thereafter in office when he allegedly made “life hell for her”.
EAM Sushma Swaraj, asked if there will be an “internal investigation” into the allegations against Akbar, reminding her that she is a “woman minister” and therefore with more responsibility, chose to remain silent, which is the better part of cowardice. Talking of ‘silence’, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said the cases dated back to when Akbar was a journalist and not a political leader; that MJ should “come up and speak”, and so should Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Silence cannot be a way out. It’s an extremely serious matter and should be investigated.”
Tuesday, ‘top journalist-turned-politician/MP whom everyone is scared to name’ was trending on social media and “so many of us have an MJ story” was quoted ad infinitum by women launched into successful careers by MJ, who referred to him as “brilliant, flamboyant”. Some women named hotels, others quipped about “rattling” experiences.
But, mind you, nothing like he groped or pushed them on to a “bed already made up.” One journalist said “Akbar would try his luck with anything that moved” but was not particularly vindictive. “I think Akbar is slimy in many ways. There was a clear category of successful male behaviour that he fell within this was the trouble. People didn’t even realise or think that there is anything wrong with this behaviour.”
And with Akbar at the helm “there were always more young women than men in office, and it used to be called Akbar’s harem” with Akbar allegedly trying to “manipulate young, impressionable women.” The majority accused Akbar of “obscenity” with one coming to his defence, saying Akbar had been “one of the best bosses” she ever had and she at least “never felt uncomfortable” around him.
According to a report, the Ministry of External Affairs is “in the know” of the allegations of Akbar’s “unsolicited advances” towards women journalists but instructions have percolated down right from the top that MJ be left alone. Apparently, PM Modi has confidence in MJ’s sterling qualities and the rest will have to “assume”.
(The author is a political commentator.)