Charges false and fabricated; will take legal action: Akbar

Why #MeToo storm just before polls? Is there an agenda?'

New Delhi: Minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar on Sunday refused to step down from his post and denied allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by several women. Hours after returning to New Delhi on Sunday morning after an official visit to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, he termed these as “viral fever”. saying that they were “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice”, adding that he would be “taking appropriate legal action”. He further said: “Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy.”

Mr Akbar added: “A sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened.”

Implying a political motive behind the allegations, he wondered why the “storm” had risen a few months before the elections. There had been considerable speculation over the past few days whether Mr Akbar would resign or not in the wake of the allegations, particularly as Mr Akbar had not reacted for a few days. The Congress attacked the government on the issue, and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the matter was “conspicuous and unacceptable”.

Sources said Mr Akbar’s decision to not resign was taken after consulting the top BJP leadership and after he explained his side of the story on the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against him. There was a growing feeling within the BJP that the #MeToo campaign was turning into an effort to malign the party and if Mr Akbar were to resign, it would give ammunition to the Opposition ahead of the crucial Assembly polls. Mr Akbar is a Rajya Sabha member belonging to the BJP.

As far as the RSS is concerned, sources said senior RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale’s sharing a Facebook post of a former JNU student on #MeToo was in support of the campaign after questions were raised on the Sangh Parivar’s stand. The Sangh, sources said, is also aware that any action against Mr Akbar would turn into a political issue, which could affect the BJP.

In a statement, Mr Akbar said: “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. 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.”

Mr Akbar added: “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. 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.”

Several women journalists, including Ghazala Wahab, Priya Ramani, Shutapa Paul and Shuma Raha, had made allegations of sexual harassment against Mr Akbar.

In his statement, Mr Akbar said: “Ms Priya Ramani ... did not however name me ... 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. But 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.”

Mr Akbar further 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 ... went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim.”

Replying to the allegations of sexual harassment against him by Ghazala Wahab, Mr Akbar said: “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 the media. 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.”

“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 she has never heard, in 20 years, anybody accusing me of any such thing.

“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. This is the reason why no one went to the authorities for so long, because I had done nothing.”

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