#MeToo allegations: UP BJP minister defends M.J. Akbar

mj-akbar-defended Union minister M.J. Akbar | AFP

Even as the #MeToo campaign continues to gather momentum and various politicians and others have sought the resignation of Union minister M.J. Akbar after some women journalists accused him of sexually harassing them, Uttar Pradesh Tourism Minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi came out in support of Akbar saying the issue of his resignation should be raised only after a thorough probe.

According to a report appeared on ANI, Joshi said Akbar should be given a chance to defend himself. Every woman has a right to accuse, she said, adding, but when an accusation is made, there is also the need to prove the charge. She said the women who accused the minister of sexually harassing them have presented their sides, and Akbar should also be given a chance to explain and defend himself.

Her statement came even as both the Congress and the left parties demanded that the minister be ousted in the wake of the allegations.

The first direct allegation against Akbar was made by journalist Priya Ramani, who tweeted on Monday about an article she wrote on the MeToo movement for Vogue in October 2017. On Monday, Ramani revealed that the article was about Akbar, tweeting, “I began this piece with my MJ Akbar story. Never named him because he didn’t “do” anything. Lots of women have worse stories about this predator—maybe they’ll share.”

Soon, Shuma Raha, another journalist, replied to Ramani on Twitter that she had an unpleasant experience with Akbar during an interview at his room at the Taj Bengal in Kolkata in 1995. Raha claimed Akbar invited her for drinks after the interview.

On Monday, Prerna Singh Bindra, a journalist-turned-wildlife conservationist, tweeted about a “brilliant,flamboyant #editor who dabbled in politics,” who called “me-my 1st job- to his hotel room to 'discuss work', after i put the edition to bed-read midnight, & made life at work hell when i refused”.

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The Congress had said Akbar should either offer a satisfactory explanation on the allegations made against him or resign immediately. "How can he be in the ministry with this serious allegation being levelled against him by a responsible journalist who worked with him," asked Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy.

On Thursday, the CPI(M), too, sought the resignation of the Union minister. "Since these are serious charges, M.J. Akbar's continuance as a the minister of state in the Central government is untenable. He should immediately resign from office," a statement from the party said.

Meanwhile, Union Textiles Minister Smriti Irani on Thursday declined to comment on the allegations even as she said justice should be given to the "ladies who are speaking out".

"The gentleman concerned would be better positioned to speak on this issue," Irani said.

"I appreciate that the media is accosting his (former) female colleagues but I think it is for the gentleman concerned to issue a statement (and) not for me because I was personally not present there," Irani added.

She further urged people not to mock the women who are speaking out against the harassment meted out to them.

"I feel there are enough instruments in our judicial and police systems to deliver justice and I am hopeful that all these ladies who are speaking out get the justice that they deserve," Irani said.

(With inputs from agencies)