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BJP silent among growing calls for minister MJ Akbar’s resignation

Both the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have demanded that the government remove MJ Akbar from his position after the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced

india Updated: Oct 12, 2018 07:50 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
MJ Akbar,sexual harassment,metoo movement
MJ Akbar is expected back on Saturday or early on Sunday, people familiar with the matter said. (HT Photo)

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued to maintain a stoic silence on whether it would ask journalist-turned-politician and junior minister for external affairs, MJ Akbar, to step down, in the face of escalating demands for his resignation. Akbar has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women journalists on social media.

Even as opposition clamour for Akbar’s dismissal mounts, the BJP brass has issued a diktat to party spokespersons to not comment on the issue. Party leaders and spokespersons have steadfastly refused questions on the subject. Belying rumours that he has been asked to cut short his Africa visit and return, Akbar left Nigeria for Malabo in Equatorial Guinea on Thursday.

He is expected back on Saturday or early on Sunday, people familiar with the matter said.

Both the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) have demanded that the government remove Akbar from his position after the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced. “Seven women journalists have come forward recounting their experience of sexual harassment and unacceptable behaviour from M.J. Akbar when he was the editor of various newspapers,” the CPI (M) said in a statement. On Wednesday, the Congress’ S Jaipal reddy said it was untenable for Akbar to continue as a minister.

“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,” Smriti Irani, the Union minister of textiles, told journalists in Mumbai. A few party functionaries declined to comment on the course of action the party is likely to follow, but said it is only “fair” that the minister is given a chance to reply to the allegations. Among them was Uttar Pradesh tourism minister Rita Bahuguna Joshi who said a thorough probe is needed before any discussion on resignation.

A senior functionary, not wishing to be named said the issue was “informally” discussed by the party, with some senior leaders underlining that the issue has cast a cloud on the party’s claims of empowering women.

“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, he used to go door-to-door to encourage families to send girls to school. He gave ₹ 21 lakh from his personal savings to set up a fund for the girls of drivers and peons in government offices just before becoming PM. So, it is reasonable that the party should send a message that it is serious about the safety and empowerment of women,” the functionary said.

The decision to appoint as many as six women in the Modi cabinet, two of whom are in the cabinet committee on security, the fight to ban triple talaq among Muslims and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign have all been women-centric policies.

The BJP’s ideological mentor, RashtriyaSwayamsevak Sangh, did not make a formal statement on the issue, but a senior functionary of the organisation said it is for the party to take a decision. One RSS joint general secretary, Dattatreya Hosable, posted a comment on Twitter that suggested his support for the #metoo campaign.

He shared a post from a woman named Ankhi Das which said, “You needn’t have a #MeToo moment to support the women journalists who have narrated their victimisation. You needn’t even be a woman. You just need to have a sensibility of what is right and what is wrong.”

Although neither external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj nor the ministry have not commented on allegations against Akbar, two people familiar with development said on condition of anonymity that it had been left to the minister of state to decide on whether he should continue in his post after his return, given the serious nature of the allegations against him.

However, the thinking within the party is that a resignation could set a precedent and open the doors for the opposition to seek the resignation of other ministers facing allegations of impropriety.

First Published: Oct 12, 2018 07:24 IST