Facing storm of sexual misconduct allegations by women journalists against him in his stint as editor of a newspaper, Union Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar on Wednesday resigned from the Council of Ministers saying he is stepping down to “challenge false accusations” levelled against him in his “personal capacity”.
The resignation came a day before Akbar’s defamation suit against journalist Priya Ramani — who was the first journalist to accuse him of sexual harassment around 20 years ago — is scheduled to come up for hearing in the Patiala House court here.
Akbar first tried to dig in his heels, but with the allegations refusing to die down and even the RSS backing the women journalists, the Modi Government had few options but to give him marching orders to contain growing adverse publicity. With the case slated for hearing on Thursday, Akbar would have found it difficult to defend himself in the court in such a sensitive matter in his capacity as a Union Minister.
“I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levelled against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation...,” Akbar said.
He expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for giving him the opportunity to serve the country.
Akbar’s lawyer Sandeep Kapur of law firm Karanjawala & Co said the private criminal defamation case will come up for hearing on Thursday before additional chief metropolitan magistrate Samar Vishal.
The lawyer also forwarded the brief resignation letter of Akbar, who was associated with several media houses in the past.
Kapur said since the matter is sub judice, the law will take its own course.
“Since we have already filed the defamation case, we will pursue it in court,” he said.
Akbar on Monday had filed the criminal defamation complaint against Ramani alleging she “willfully” and “maliciously” made imputations against him with the ulterior motive of maligning his reputation and political standing.
As Akbar took the first step of filing the legal case, 19 women journalists who have worked with him in the past came out in support of their colleague Ramani.
The journalists have urged the court to hear their testimonies against Akbar, claiming that some of them suffered sexual harassment by the Minister and others have been witness to it.
“Ramani is not alone in her fight. We would request the honourable court hearing the defamation case to also consider the testimonies of sexual harassment of some of us at the hands of the petitioner, as also of the other signatories who bore witness to this harassment,” the journalists said in the joint statement undersigned by them.
“What Akbar has demonstrated through his legal actions is his refusal to introspect, acknowledge or atone for his actions that have caused immense pain and indeed harm to many women over the years.
“He himself, in the meanwhile, continues to enjoy enormous power and privilege as Minister and Member of Parliament,” the statement said.
“When Ramani spoke out against him in public, she spoke not only about her personal experience, but also lifted the lid on the culture of ‘casual misogyny, entitlement and sexual predation’ that Akbar engendered and presided over at newspaper,” it said.
The Akbar versus women journalists legal battle is set for a long haul as the cases are spread over to two decades. Ramani on Monday asserted that she was ready to fight the defamation complaint filed against her, and expressed disappointment over the Minister’s statement, saying it paid no heed to the “trauma and fear of the survivors”.
“I am ready to fight the allegations of defamation laid against me as truth and the absolute truth is my only defence,” she had said.
The Congress termed as “victory of truth” the resignation of Union Minister MJ Akbar following charges of sexual harassment against him.
Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said she saluted those women who stood on their charges against the Minister bravely despite the “brazen” stance taken by the Government.
“This resignation is a vindication of the power of truth. More strength to India’s women,” she said.