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Resignation Before Explanation? MJ Akbar Returns to India Amid #MeToo Storm, Statement Shortly

New Delhi: Union minister MJ Akbar returned to India on Sunday morning amid the storm raised by sexual harassment allegations against him. He is likely to present his defence to BJP leaders, following which the party will decide whether the former journalist will continue in the Union Council of Ministers.

Akbar left straight for his official residence from the Delhi airport, dodging pointed questions from several reporters. The junior foreign minister only said that he would issue a statement later in the day.

Akbar, who was on an official trip to Nigeria, has so far not responded to the charges.

According to government sources, Akbar has been asked to resign and his position is becoming “untenable” with each new allegation. Sources added that other ministers have been complaining about being asked the same question at every public event.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party has maintained a studied silence on the matter so far, party sources have said the charges against him are serious, and his continuance as a minister is no longer guaranteed. A final call will be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they said.

There is also a view within the party that there is no legal case against him, and allegations pertain to a time long before he became a minster.

Multiple women in the last few days have offered their accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Akbar as the #MeToo movement swept social media, bringing to fore sordid tales of sexual harassment by influential men in different walks of lives.

While the BJP has kept mum, some woman ministers have lent their support to the #MeToo movement without taking a stand on the charges against Akbar.

Party leaders have said it is for Akbar to respond to the charges first.

The Congress has demanded that Akbar explain the allegations or step down from the position.

“MJ Akbar has the stature of being a veteran journalist in addition to being junior External Affairs Minister. Sushma Swaraj could not comment on her own subordinate. MJ Akbar should either come out with a satisfactory explanation or must resign from the post in the government. We demand an inquiry into the allegations. If Justice Kavanaugh can be asked for an explanation, then why not MJ Akbar, who allegedly did whatever he did much later in his life than Kavanaugh,” Congress leader Jaipal Reddy had said earlier this week, invoking the controversial entry of #MeToo-accused Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

The MoS for External Affairs has been accused of sexual harassment by at least four women. He was first called out by journalist Priya Ramani, who had last year written about his alleged inappropriate behaviour for a magazine without taking his name. She confirmed this week that the allegation was against Akbar.

Akbar, who has been the editor of prominent newspapers like The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian, is a member of the Rajya Sabha from the BJP.

In her article, Ramani had said “Akbar is an expert on obscene phone calls, texts, inappropriate compliments and not taking no for an answer.” “You know how to pinch, pat, rub, grab and assault. Speaking up against you still carries a heavy price that many young women cannot afford to pay,” her article said. Detailing how he made her uncomfortable, she said he had called her for a job interview to a “plush south Mumbai hotel” when she was 23 and he was 43. Akbar did not meet Ramani in the hotel lobby and insisted that she meet him in his room. There, he offered her a drink. Although she refused, he drank vodka, sang old songs to her and asked her to sit close to him, she alleged. MJ Akbar has not yet responded. He is currently in Nigeria. Soon after Ramani’s account, more women journalists came forward with their stories. A journalist named Shuma Raha said Akbar called her to his hotel room for an interview for Asian Age in Kolkata’s Taj Bengal in 1995. She said that he didn’t “do” anything, but “an interview sitting on a bed in a hotel room followed by an invitation to come over for a drink that evening was rattling and deeply uncomfortable”. She said she declined the job offer.

Another journalist, Prerna Singh Bindra, said Akbar also called her to his hotel room to ‘discuss work’ after she had fired the edition at midnight. She alleged that he “made life at work hell” for her when she refused.

| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai

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