Minister of State for External Affairs MJ Akbar on Monday filed a defamation case against journalist Priya Ramani. He filed the case in Delhi’s Patiala House Court through his advocates Karanjawala & Co.
On Sunday, Akbar had said he would consider legal action against the women who have accused him of sexual harassment. After his return from a trip abroad, Akbar had issued a statement in which he called the allegations of misconduct false, fabricated and “spiced up by innuendo and malice”.
In the lawsuit, Akbar’s lawyers claimed that Ramani made defamatory statements while simultaneously “admitting that the complainant has not done anything to her”. They said the fact that Ramani has not sought action before any authority proves that the “defamatory articles are only a figment of her imagination” and are only intended to malign Akbar’s reputation.
They also claimed that the “false narrative” against Akbar was being circulated in a “motivated manner and for the fulfilment of an agenda”. On Sunday, Akbar had asked why the sexual harassment allegations against him have only come up before the 2019 elections. “Why has this storm risen a few months before the General Election? Is there an agenda? You be the judge,” he had said.
In a Vogue India article published last year, Ramani described how an acclaimed newspaper editor called her for a job interview to his “plush south Mumbai hotel” when she was 23 and he was 43. The editor – who she last week claimed was Akbar – did not meet Ramani in the hotel lobby and insisted that she meet him in his room. There, he offered her a drink. Though she refused, he drank vodka himself. She alleges that he went on to sing old Hindi songs to her and at one point, asked her to sit close to him.
Soon after Ramani’s tweet, other journalists, including Shuma Raha, Ghazala Wahab and Shutapa Paul, also accused Akbar of calling women to his hotel rooms for interviews, or making women feel uncomfortable by seeking to be alone with them.
Five of a dozen women journalists who have accused Akbar have said they stand by their allegations even after he threatened legal action on Sunday.
“The truth is the best defence in any defamation case,” Ramani had told The Telegraph on Sunday. “I’m not worried.” She told The Indian Express that there was “no conspiracy against Akbar” and she was speaking up “at great cost to our personal and professional lives”.
The Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Samajwadi Party among others 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.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which had so far maintained silence on the allegations against Akbar, on Monday said the minister has commented on the allegations, PTI reported. “It is not about agreeing or disagreeing [with him],” said BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao. “He has presented his version.”
Union minister Smriti Irani said last week that 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 the matter. Minister for Defence Nirmala Sitharaman also refused to comment.