New Delhi: The Congress sharpened its attack on Union minister MJ Akbar following his return to India amid sexual harassment allegations levelled against him by multiple women, demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spell out his stand on the issue.
“The PM’s silence is conspicuous. A PM who speaks on everything is silent on #MeToo. The silence raises questions on the dignity of the PM’s office. The country has been waiting for days for PM Modi’s to clear his stand on this,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said at a press conference.
Akbar, a former journalist, returned from an official trip to Nigeria on Sunday morning and dodged a volley of questions from reporters at the Delhi airport. Around 2pm, Akbar left for a meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
According to government sources, Akbar’s position has become “untenable” after multiple women spoke out against him as part of the #MeToo movement, which has seen big names from the field of literature, entertainment, journalism and advertising being shamed for alleged sexual harassment. Sources added that other ministers have been complaining about being asked to comment on Akbar at every public event.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party has maintained a studied silence on the matter so far, party sources said the charges against him are serious. 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. BJP chief Amit Shah is currently on a two-day tour of poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.
Akbar 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.