The #MeToo movement has gathered steam in India and several men from all walks of life including the film industry and journalism have been accused of sexual misconduct by women from all walks of life. One of the prominent cases that have come up in India is that of union minister and BJP leader MJ Akbar. Several women have accused him of indecent behavior and sexual harassment. At least 11 allegations have been levied against Akbar. He was first accused by journalist Priya Ramani, who had written about him in an article she wrote for Vogue a year ago without mentioning his name, however, when the #MeToo movement gathered steam in India, she named him. A couple of journalists based outside India have also levelled allegations of sexual misconduct against him, which includes the UK based journalist Ruth David and the US based journalist Puy Kamp.
Another journalist, Ghazala Wahab, has also made extremely serious allegations against the journalist-turned politician and has accused him of persistent sexual abuses against her. All these allegations have seriously damaged Akbar’s public image and, in the process, even the BJP is bound to be seen by many as a party harboring and defending someone with serious allegations of sexual harassment. Some of the accusers have reiterated these allegations and press associations have said they will be coming out with strong responses to the developments. Even the Delhi Commission for Women chief has spoken strongly about this. One cannot help but agree that MJ Akbar is currently in a spot of bother and the BJP is also being looked down upon in the process.
The BJP needs to take an objective decision in this case. It is a crucial juncture with Lok Sabha elections around the corner and at a time like this the party can’t allow its image to take a hit. BJP must immediately relieve MJ Akbar of all his posts citing moral reasons. This does not mean that the BJP in any manner indicts or corroborates the charges made against him. However, it will send a strong message across that the BJP believes in fair investigations and maintains high standards even when its own men are involved. Moreover, politics is a game of perceptions. The fact remains that the BJP’s ‘Beti Bachao’ pitch won’t really go well with MJ Akbar being a part of the Modi government. Even though it may be unfair to take such a decision against MJ Akbar only on the basis of allegations, the BJP is supposed to take this hard step in the larger interest.
Meanwhile, MJ Akbar has rejected the allegations levied against him in a vociferous manner. He has also filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani for “intentionally and maliciously harming his goodwill and reputation on completely false, frivolous, unjustifiable and scandalous grounds”. It is possible that MJ Akbar might be the actual victim with false allegations being made against him. However, even if that were the case, it is not for the BJP to fight it out for him. These allegations are made with reference to his journalism days and MJ Akbar is supposed to fight for himself, which he should in the current situation. The BJP must relieve him before it is too late and adverse public opinion is formulated against it. Alternatively, MJ Akbar could tender his own resignation, setting a high moral stand and the BJP by accepting it would come out appearing like a party free of all biases and prejudices even where central ministers are concerned.