Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar returned to India on Sunday morning from an official visit to Africa, where he was leading a 70-member business delegation, ANI reported. While he was away, at least nine women journalists accused him of sexually harassing them in the past. The veteran journalist has not yet responded to the allegations.
Faced with reporters immediately after his return, the minister said a statement will be released later on, according to ANI. Akbar was in Nigeria when the first allegations surfaced, and travelled to Equatorial Guinea later.
Unidentified officials in the Bharatiya Janata Party told PTI earlier that the charges against Akbar were serious and his berth on the cabinet can no longer be guaranteed. A final call on the matter will be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they said.
Some in the party have argued there was no case against him and the allegations pertain to a time long before he became a minister, while others have warned of the political cost of sacking a minister before crucial state elections and 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Samajwadi Party among others have demanded an explanation or a resignation from Akbar following the allegations. Delhi Commission for Women Chairperson Swati Maliwal on Friday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to sack Akbar from his post.
The BJP has maintained silence on the allegations with senior ministers avoiding to comment on the government’s position on the matter. Union minister Smriti Irani said the onus of commenting on the allegations lies with the “gentleman concerned”, while Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj evaded a question on the government’s stance on Akbar.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also refused to comment on whether the government will act against Akbar. She told News18 that she is “not the right person to comment on it”.
Since October 5, dozens of woman have gone public on social media with allegations of sexual misconduct. The movement has sent tremors through industries such as film, music and the media. Some of the men accused include former Hindustan Times political editor Prashant Jha, actor Alok Nath, director Vikas Bahl, The Times of India’s KR Sreenivas, author Kiran Nagarkar, and multiple men affiliated currently or previously with comedy group AIB.
Akbar has been the editor of prominent newspapers like The Telegraph, Asian Age and The Sunday Guardian. He is now a member of the Rajya Sabha from the Bharatiya Janata Party.