Wednesday 16 October 2019

Indian minister quits after accusations of sexual harassment

M.J. Akbar has vowed to take legal action to clear his name.

India’s junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar has resigned (Manish Swarup/AP)
India’s junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar has resigned (Manish Swarup/AP)

By Ashok Sharma and Emily Schmall

M.J. Akbar, India’s junior external affairs minister, has resigned amid accusations by 20 women of sexual harassment during his previous career as one of the country’s most prominent news editors.

He has become the most powerful man to fall in India’s burgeoning #MeToo movement.

Mr Akbar said he would “challenge false accusations” in a personal capacity, referring to a criminal defamation case he filed on Monday against the first woman to accuse him.

Mr Akbar, 67, first served as a politician for India’s then-ruling India National Congress party between 1989 and 1991.

He then edited The Telegraph, The Asian Age and other newspapers and wrote several books of non-fiction, becoming one of the most influential people in the Indian news media.

Congress party workers standing on police barricades shout slogans against M.J.Akbar during a protest on Monday (Manish Swarup/AP)

He returned to public life in March 2014, when he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and was appointed national spokesman during the 2014 election that brought the BJP and prime minister Narendra Modi to power.

Mr Akbar maintained a low profile after joining India’s Ministry of External Affairs in July 2016 as its junior minister, representing India overseas at multinational conferences.

On Wednesday he thanked Mr Modi, who had remained silent about the allegations, for the opportunity to serve in public office.

In India’s deeply conservative society, the #MeToo movement began belatedly but has picked up steam in recent weeks.

Indian policemen detain a Congress party worker during a protest against M.J. Akbar (Manish Swarup/AP)

Since September, Indian actresses and writers have flooded social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by their superiors and colleagues.

The string of accusations against Mr Akbar began when journalist Priya Ramani identified him on Twitter on October 8 as the unnamed editor that she had described in a story about newsroom sexual harassment published in Vogue last year.

On Sunday, returning from an official visit to West Africa, Mr Akbar denied the allegations as “false, baseless and wild”.

The following day, dozens of members of the Congress Party’s youth wing clashed with police outside Mr Akbar’s New Delhi home, demanding his resignation.

PA Media

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