Minister of state for external affairs, M.J. Akbar, is not ready to quit and face an inquiry even after more than a dozen women including prominent journalists in responsible posts, have raised specific and precise sexual harassment allegations against him.
Not only has he dodged the complaints raised against him as malicious and politically motivated, but he has also threatened legal action against those who made the accusations. In his statement issued on Sunday after his return from a foreign tour, Akbar criticized the women by name and dismissed the allegations as ‘false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice’. This move of his was unexpected. When the women who spoke out, about the sexual harassment they were subjected to when they joined the media house as colleagues and for training, as part of the #MeToo campaign, it was anticipated that Akbar would step down and that the NDA government would keep him aside.
Women members of the union cabinet Nirmala Sitharaman, Smriti Irani and Maneka Gandhi had come forward extending support and encouragement to those who revealed their unpleasant experiences out in the public. However, amidst reports of displeasure brewing up against Akbar in the BJP and RSS circles, party president Amit Shah’s response was different. Shah was of the view that the allegations will have to be looked into in order to know whether they were true or false and the credibility of the social media post ascertained. The BJP president’s response was such as if he were unaware that Minister Maneka Gandhi had ensured the veracity of the accounts of those who raised the accusations. It can also be concluded that Akbar’s statement after his return was not his personal opinion but that it was issued with the knowledge of the government and the party leadership.
He has blindly rejected all the allegations - made with clear place and time - as false, saying that they had been spewn out of jealousy, without going into the matter of allegations raised by those who serve in top positions in different media houses in the country and abroad after gaining training under Akbar. He also alleges that it was his character assassination which was taking place in order to politically eliminate him in the backdrop of approaching Lok Sabha elections. At the same time, more than half of these women, including a foreign national, who have raised the allegations have told the media that they stand firm in their stance even after Akbar’s threatening response.
They assert that the conspiracy theory weaved by Akbar was a tactic of cheap politicians and that it was neither the elections nor power but the insistence that a person who has made harassment against women a norm, cannot be protected any further. Many close acquaintances in the field of journalism have been coming out testifying against this sexual harasser. Akbar may not be able to survive the responsiveness of women only with the maneuvers of an opportunist politician. Akbar who has been a versatile personality in the field of journalism, has been frantic ever since tasting the sweetness of power politics.
With his becoming an insider in Rajiv Gandhi's close circuit, Akbar quit journalism and joined the Congress. In 1989 he won a parliamentary seat, but when the Congress leadership came into the hands of Narasimha Rao, he felt his position to be unstable and returned to journalism. Thereafter, the man who until 2002 had seen Modi as India's Hitler and a destructive force, was then spotted knocking on the doors of BJP and then metamorphosing into a Modi fan and a beneficiary from that. Although he won from Kishenganj constituency on Congress ticket, two years later he lost it despite a pro-Rajiv sympathy wave. And when he joined BJP, he won via the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh. When such a person alleges that critics are trying to politically annihilate him, there is nothing much amusing in the charge.
In the country's atmosphere with increasing #MeToo disclosures from the film and media world, allegations against Akbar had appeared by the time the central government announced the formation of a special investigation team for enquiry. But two days into the government decision, the Centre is making an attempt to shield Akbar who was besieged by charges raised by as many as 14 victims. The prime minister, who goes whole hog in the girl-saving campaign of 'beti bachao', is sometimes seen in a hurry for legislation to solve the problems of women from any section. A prime minister who claims to work for women's welfare, is still silent even when serious allegations have been raised against a cabinet colleague. It is such silence that acts as shield for Akbar. All in all, the ongoing 'MeToo' movement is a test case to decide whether the Government and BJP are on the side of women or opposite them.