The MoS was accused of sexual harassment from his former colleagues during his stint as an editor; allegations which he has termed as “baseless” and “fabricated”.
M J Akbar stepped down as junior external affairs minister on Wednesday, the proverbial centre of India’s darkening #MeToo storm and the first high-profile head to roll in the movement that has banded diverse women against the spectrum of sexual misconduct ending in rape.
President Ram Nath Kovind accepted the resignation of M J Akbar from the Union council of ministers on the advice of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Rashtrapati Bhavan said.
In a statement, the Rashtrapati Bhavan statement said, “The President of India, as advised by the Prime Minister, has accepted the resignation of M J Akbar from the Union Council of Ministers, with immediate effect, under clause (2) of Article 75 of the Constitution,”
The 67-year-old journalist-politician’s resignation as minister of state for external affairs comes a day ahead of the hearing of his criminal defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani at Delhi’s Patiala House court.
Akbar, who was in Nigeria when the allegations against him surfaced, said he would continue to fight the case in a personal capacity.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity. I have, therefore, tendered my resignation...,” he said.
Akbar is perhaps the first minister to resign following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.
His resignation is also being seen as the biggest victory of the cathartic #MeToo movement, which started with a trickle in Bollywood with Tanushree Dutta’s accusations against actor Nana Patekar in the last week of September and opened the floodgates with women ‘outing’ directors, journalists, actors and others on social media.
Akbar’s intensely debated move comes after more than 16 women journalists spoke out over the last 10 days to narrate their experiences of alleged sexual harassment and molestation during his years as the celebrated editor of several publications.
According to sources, there was a view in the government that the minister should fight the case in his personal capacity and not as a Union minister.
Priya Ramani, who was the first to call him out by name for his allegedly predatory behaviour, said on Twitter, “As women, we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice. #MeToo.”
The defamation case filed two days ago led more women and some men too to come forward in their defence of Ramani and others. On Tuesday night, 20 journalists, who had worked at The Asian Age during Akbar’s tenure, issued a joint statement against him.
“Though the step should have been taken as soon as he landed in Delhi, now at least, there will not be a power imbalance and it will not be a fight between the government and Ramani,” said Suparna Sharma, The Asian Age's resident editor.
Meenal Baghel, who came out in support of Ramani, said Akbar’s decision to quit was long overdue while author Kiran Manral said they still have a long road ahead for justice.
While Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, said it is the determination and courage of 20 women journalists who came forward to expose Akbar that has “belatedly” forced him to resign, women’s rights activist Ranajan Kumari said Akbar should be ashamed that he did not quit earlier and he is still fighting against the woman who came out.
Ripples were felt in the political sphere too.
“The resignation of MoS External Affairs MJ Akbar after serious charges were levelled against him by senior women journalists who worked with him is a vindication of the power of truth even if it began with one brave person speaking up,” Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi said.
The Aam Aadmi Party called for criminal proceedings against Akbar. “Mere resignation by Akbar is not sufficient considering the gravity of allegations against him,” AAP’s Dilip Pandey said.
As the #MeToo juggernaut gathered pace in its India chapter, the government is mulling the formation of group of ministers to look into the lacunae in law on sexual harassment, a government source said Wednesday.
The proposal comes days after Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi proposed a legal panel to look into the legal and institutional framework to handle handling complaints of sexual harassment.