Minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar resigned on Wednesday after facing charges of sexual misconduct dating back to the years he was a journalist and newspaper editor. At least a dozen woman journalists have accused Akbar, 67, of inappropriate behavior as part of the #MeToo campaign.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levelled against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation from the office of MoS for external affairs. I am deeply grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and to the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for the opportunity they gave me to serve my country,” Akbar said in a statement.
The minister has sued journalist Priya Ramani for criminal defamation in a Delhi court for sparking off the allegations against him. The case will be heard in Delhi on Thursday.
Priya Ramani welcomed Akbar’s exit. “As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #MeToo,” she said.
The National Democratic Alliance government had come under immense pressure to remove him from office after the allegations surfaced against Akbar, who was on an official overseas visit when the first accusations were made.
Akbar has dubbed the accounts malicious and intended to defame him. He has also alleged that it was a political conspiracy scripted ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which initially maintained a stoic silence on the issue, has now distanced itself from Akbar; claiming that the incidents date to a time when Akbar was not a member of the party. The party has also argued that seeking legal recourse to defend his name was a right that cannot be denied to Akbar. BJP president Amit Shah, however, said the party will look into the charges to ascertain their veracity.
Giving in to the mounting pressure to take action against the complaints of sexual misdemeanour, the women and child development (WCD) ministry announced the setting up of a committee to examine all issues emanating from the ‘#Metoo’ movement, which captures stories of harassment recounted by women.
“I believe in the pain and trauma behind every single complaint. Cases of sexual harassment at work must be dealt with a policy of zero tolerance,” WCD minister Maneka Gandhi said, proposing the committee last week. There has been no action yet towards forming the committee.
Most BJP MPs and ministers have refrained from commenting on the issue. Senior functionaries who spoke on the condition of anonymity said there was “discomfort” within the party over the charges levelled against the minister, and many were of the opinion that he should step down.