Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar said he will take legal action against those who have accused him of sexual assault. His statement ruled out any call for resignation.
In a statement released on Sunday after he arrived in India from an official tour in Nigeria, Akbar termed the allegations against him “false and fabricated”
“The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice. I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad,” he said.
He said that his lawyers will look into the “wild and baseless allegations”.
“Accusation without evidence has become a viral fever among some sections. Whatever be the case, now that I have returned, my lawyers will look into these wild and baseless allegations in order to decide our future course of legal action,” he said.
Akbar also gave the allegations a political colour by questioning their timing before the Lok Sabha elections 2019.
“Why has this storm risen a few months before a general election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge. These false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage to my reputation and goodwill,” he said.
“Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. I will be taking appropriate legal action,” he said.
Taking the names of those accusing him, Akbar said there was “no story” because he did nothing.
“Priya Ramani began this campaign a year ago with a magazine article. She did not however name me as she knew it was an incorrect story. When asked recently why she had not named me, she replied, in a Tweet: ‘Never named him because he didn’t ‘do’ anything.’,” Akbar said.
“If I didn’t do anything, where and what is the story? There’s no story. But a sea of innuendo, speculation and abusive diatribe has been built around something that never happened. Some are total,unsubstantiated hearsay; others confirm, on the record, that I didn’t do anything, ” he said.
In his defence, he quoted Shutapa Paul stating that he “never laid a hand on me” and Shuma Raha’s comment that he “didn’t actually ‘do’ anything”.
“One woman, Anju Bharti, went to the absurd extent of claiming I was partying in a swimming pool. I do not know how to swim,” he said.
Akbar accused Ghazala Wahab of trying to damage his reputation.
“Another accusation was made repeatedly by Ms Ghazala Wahab, in an effort to damage my reputation. She claimed that she had been molested in office, 21 years ago. This is 16 years before I entered public life, and when I was in media,” he said referring to the FORCE magazine Executive Editor who had earlier this week in an article on a news portal wrote an account of her “harrowing experience” with Akbar.
The journalist-turned-politician said that the only office he worked with Wahab was The Asian Age where a part of the editorial team then worked out of a small hall.
“At the time concerned, I had a very tiny cubicle, patched together by plywood and glass. Others had tables and chairs two feet away,” he said.
“It is utterly bizarre to believe that anything could have happened in that tiny space, and, moreover, that no one else in the vicinity would come to know, in the midst of a working day. These allegations are false, motivated and baseless,” he said.
Noting that Wahab, in her narration, also stated that she complained to Veenu Sandal, who wrote features for the newspaper, Akbar said Sandal has described Wahab’s version as “nonsense” in an interview to an English daily. According to Akbar, Sandal had also said that she has never in 20 years heard anybody accusing him of any such thing.
“Pertinent to remember Ms Ramani and Ms Wahab kept working with me even after these alleged incidents; clearly establishes they had no apprehension and discomfort. Reason why they remained silent for decades is very apparent, as Ms Ramani has herself stated, I never did anything,” he added.
Akbar is facing allegations of sexual assault by number of women journalists. Reports had initially stated that he has tendered his resignation to the Prime Minister’s Office.
According to the reports, the union minister had sent his resignation via email but it had not been accepted yet.
Talking to reporters after arriving in New Delhi, the minister said that there will be a statement later.
Amid an increasing clamour for Akbar’s resignation, the BJP is likely to take a clear stand on the allegations of sexual harassment against him once he explains his position upon his scheduled return.
The junior foreign minister, who has been on an official trip abroad, had not responded to the charges till he was abroad.
While the BJP has maintained a studied silence on the matter so far, party sources have said the charges against him are serious, and his continuance as a minister is no longer guaranteed. A final call will be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they said.
More than half a dozen women journalists have accused Akbar of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour at various stages of his journalistic career, during which he launched and edited several newspapers.
On Friday, US-based journalist Majlie de Puy Kamp told online news portal HuffPost India that Akbar forcibly kissed her on the last day of her internship at The Asian Age office in 2007.