New Delhi: Even as Union minister Smriti Irani said ‘the gentleman (MJ Akbar) concerned would be in a better position to speak’ about the sexual harassment allegations against him, Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted in favour of the #MeToo movement.
Gandhi’s statement comes a day after he refused to address allegations of sexual harassment levelled against former journalist and Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar by several women journalists. At least 10 women, including senior journalists, have alleged that they had been sexually harassed by Akbar.
In a tweet, the Congress president said that everyone must learn to treat women with respect and dignity. Gandhi further added that the truth needs to be told “loud and clear” if a change has to be ushered in the society.
“It’s about time everyone learns to treat women with respect and dignity. I’m glad the space for those who don’t, is closing. The truth needs to be told loud and clear in order to bring about change,” he said in his tweet.
Akbar is the first high profile person in the government to be outed as a sexual predator by several journalists, who were junior to him, when he was the editor at The Telegraph and The Asian Age.
What did the Opposition say?
In a TV interaction, Senior Congress leader said. “ I have so far refrained from pointing fingers at anybody. I just feel that anyone who has behaved badly, anybody who has conducted themselves in a manner that has violated the dignity of other human being should be accountable for their behaviour.”
“The Minister concerned needs to speak as silence is not an option. Prime Minister Modi also needs to speak up,” Congress leader Manish Tewari said on Wednesday.
“The allegations against Mr Akbar is the Harvey Weinstein moment for India. The Modi government talks of ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ (save the girl child, educate her) but the people of India have built a movement which seeks justice for women. Mr Akbar should resign,” Spokesperson of Samajwadi Party Ghanshyam Tewari.
On Wednesday, while addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Jaipal Reddy had stated, “MJ Akbar has his own stature as a journalist and now minister also. Sushma Swaraj’s silence is guilty. MJ Akbar must either give a satisfactory answer or he should resign. We demand an inquiry into the conduct of MJ Akbar.”
Telugu Desam Party (TDP) asked for the immediate resignation of MJ Akbar. TDP MP CM Ramesh that his (MJ Akbar) conduct not good in public life, Narendra Modi needs to speak on issues other than what suits him. If Akbar is not made to resign we will take this up in upcoming Parliament session.
In a statement released on Thursday, the left political party CPI (M) demanded Akbar’s resignation. “Even women journalists have come forward recounting their experience of sexual harassment and unacceptable behaviour from MJ Akbar when he was Editor of various newspapers. Since these are serious charges, MJ Akbar’s continuance as a Minister of State in the Central government is untenable. He should immediately resign from office” the statement read.
BJP women leader’s break silence
The Union minister for women and child development, Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday, had called for an investigation against MJ Akbar. “There should be an investigation. Men in position of power often do this. This applies to media, politics and seniors working in companies. Now that women have started speaking out, we should take it seriously,” Gandhi was quoted as saying in media reports. She added that women are scared of speaking as people ridicule and question their character. She stressed that action should be taken, “now that women are speaking up”.
The textile minister Smriti Irani in a strong statement on Thursday, underscored that women who are speaking up now should be supported and not victimised. Irani however, avoided a specific question on Akbar saying the “gentleman concerned” is the best person to speak about it.
While Akbar’s superior Sushma Swaraj has strategically dodged the questions from media, BJP women wing chief in MP Lata Elkar on Thursday said that journalists who have accused junior foreign minister of misconduct were at fault too.“MJ Akbar was a journalist and all the accusers are also journalists. Both were at fault,” she added.
However, she welcomed the MeToo movement, saying that it has given women the courage to speak up against harassment. Additionally, she put up a disclaimer to that as well by saying “only now in their understanding has it become harassment,” suggesting it wasn’t at the time because they didn’t report. When asked if Akbar should resign from his post, Kelkar said it wasn’t for her to say and can only be decided by him and the party high command.
Uttar Pradesh Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi who was formerly with the Congress and now in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) defended Akbar saying the question of his resignation should be raised only after a thorough investigation. Emphasising that men also have a right in a democratic country to come forward and defend themselves, Joshi said: “The question is not about the resignation. Question is when I accuse someone it should be proved. Every woman has a right to accuse, and investigation should also be conducted. Women have presented their versions, hence men too have the right to present theirs.”
Apart from these women ministers, no male politician from BJP have made any comment about the allegations against BJP minister – with leaders like Ravi Shankar Prasad, AJ Alphons refusing to comment about it. Its ally Shiv Sena has taken a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying that a PM who speaks of Mumbai rains during ‘Mann ki Baat’ stays silent on issues related to women’s safety. Additionally, Shiv Sena leader Manisha Kayande has also demanded Akbar’s resignation.