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Sitharaman Supports MeToo, But Says Not Right Person to Answer Questions on MJ Akbar

MJ Akbar, the MoS for external affairs and a former journalist, has been accused of sexual harassment by at least four women.

Updated:October 10, 2018, 11:49 PM IST
New Delhi: The two ministers who signified the rise of women power under Modi government – Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman - have both refused to comment on the sexual harassment allegations against their colleague and minister MJ Akbar.

While external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj walked away on Tuesday when asked if an inquiry will be held against Akbar, who is her junior in the ministry, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said she was not the right person to comment on the matter in an interview to CNN-News18 on Wednesday.

Both ministers are part of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).

On the MeToo movement spreading through the country, Sitharaman said, “I support the courage with which many women are speaking out, women who have gone through this must be a hard memory.”

But when asked specifically about Akbar, she said, I cannot speak on it much. "I may not be the right person to comment." The evasive response comes amid demands for Akbar to come clean on the accusations of sexual harassment or resign by the Congress.

Akbar, a former journalist and the MoS for external affairs, has been accused of sexual harassment by at least four women.

He was first called out by journalist Priya Ramani, who had last year written about his alleged inappropriate behaviour for a magazine without taking his name. She confirmed this week that the allegation was against Akbar.

She alleged that Akbar, then an editor with a leading daily, had called her to his hotel room for a job interview and offered her drinks. When she refused, he had vodka and sang songs to her and asked her to sit close to him, she said.

Following her account, three more women journalists named Akbar as their harasser and all them said he had called her to his hotel room for job interviews or while he was their boss.

MJ Akbar has not yet responded to the allegations.

The Congress on Wednesday demanded that Akbar explain allegations levelled against him or step down from the position.

“MJ Akbar has the stature of being a veteran journalist in addition to being junior External Affairs Minister. Sushma Swaraj could not comment on her own subordinate. MJ Akbar should either come out with a satisfactory explanation or must resign from the post in the government. We demand an inquiry into the allegations. If Justice Kavanaugh can be asked for an explanation, then why not MJ Akbar, who allegedly did whatever he did much later in his life than Kavanaugh,” Congress leader Jaipal Reddy said, invoking the controversial entry of #MeToo-accused Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court.

After the Congress, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi also demanded his removal from the union cabinet.

“@mjakbar shame on you and you stood in parliament during T Talaaq Bill & spoke about Muslim women empowerment & to stop their exploitation..," he tweeted. "@PMOIndia sack this Minister of yours if you truly believe in Beti Bachao," the Hyderabad Lok Sabha MP said in another tweet.
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