Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar on Sunday denied the allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against him by several women colleagues from his journalist days and stated that his lawyers will look into the accusations to decide the legal course of action. However, he did not indicate any decision to step down from his position in the cabinet, contrary to media reports.
Akbar, who faced flak in the wake of the #MeToo movement, cited his official tour as the reason for the delay in reacting to the slew of allegations made against him. "The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad," the junior foreign minister said in a statement.
Terming the allegations wild and baseless, Akbar's statement further said, "Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action."
In the lengthy statement, the minister has specifically replied to allegations made by women journalists.
Scribe Priya Ramani's allegations found the first mention; she was the first one to publically accuse Akbar of misconduct. "Ms Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not however name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a Tweet: "Never named him because he didn't 'do' anything." If I didn't do anything, where and what is the story? There is no story. This was admitted at the very inception," noted the statement.
Further into the statement, Akbar maintained that brouhaha is being created over something that never took place. "A sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total, unsubstantiated hearsay; others confirm, on the record, that I didn't do anything," read the clarification.
Citing the accusations levelled by other journalists, Akbar said, "Let me note examples. Shutapa Paul states, "The man never laid a hand on me." Shuma Raha says, "I must clarify, however, that he didn't actually 'do' anything". One woman, Anju Bharti, went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim."
With his strong retort, Akbar attempted to poke holes into claims made by Ghazala Wahab, another journalist who penned her ordeal in an online publication, The Wire.
"Another accusation was made repeatedly by Ms Ghazala Wahab, in an effort to damage my reputation. She claimed that she had been molested in office, 21 years ago. This is 16 years before I entered public life, and when I was in media," read the minister's statement.
Contrary to Wahab's description of Akbar's office, the statement noted that at the said time he had a "tiny cubicle".
"The only office where I worked with her was that of The Asian Age. A part of the editorial team then worked out of a small hall. At the time concerned, I had a very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass. Others had tables and chairs two feet away. It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless."
Wahab, in her wrire-up, had claimed that she complained about the alleged harassment to her Asian Age colleague Veenu Sandal. However, Akbar, in his statement, said that Sandal has rubbished Wahab's claims as "nonsense.
"Ms Wahab states that she complained to Ms Veenu Sandal, who wrote features for the paper. Ms Sandal has described Ms Wahab's version as nonsense, in an interview to the Indian Express. Ms Sandal has also said that she has never heard, in 20 years, anybody accusing me of any such thing," Akbar noted.
The minister further explained how the women who accused him continued to work as his colleagues after the alleged incidents. "It is pertinent to remember that both Ms Ramani and Ms Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; this clearly establishes that they had no apprehension and discomfort. The reason why they remained silent for decades is very apparent: as Ms Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything."
Akbar went on to question if there was an agenda behind the slew of allegations being made right before the country goes to polls in 2019. "Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill," he wrote.
In conclusion MJ Akbar wrote, "Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. As indicated above, I will be taking appropriate legal action."