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It’s Business as Usual for MJ Akbar as Refusal to Step Down Triggers Outrage

Akbar made his way to the Ministry of External Affairs amid a sea of mediapersons camped outside his official residence since his return to India on Sunday.

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Updated:October 15, 2018, 10:44 AM IST
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It’s Business as Usual for MJ Akbar as Refusal to Step Down Triggers Outrage
File photo of Union Minister of State MJ Akbar. Photo: Reuters
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New Delhi: Day after triggering uproar by refusing to step down amid sexual harassment allegations, Union minister MJ Akbar headed to work on Monday to hold a series of meetings.

Akbar made his way to the Ministry of External Affairs amid a sea of mediapersons camped outside his official residence since his return to India on Sunday. The former journalist dodged questions from the reporters on his next course of action.

Akbar has termed allegations of sexual harassment levelled against him by several women as "false, fabricated and deeply distressing" and said he was taking appropriate legal action against them. Hours after returning from an official trip to Africa, the Minister of State for External Affairs issued a statement, virtually rejecting calls for his resignation from the post and seeking to link the allegations against him to the upcoming Lok sabha elections.

There have been mounting demands for his removal from the Union Council of Ministers after multiple women, as part of the #MeToo movement in India, came out with accounts of alleged sexual harassment by Akbar when he was a journalist.

"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 in the statement.

"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," the BJP MP from Madhya Pradesh said.

Akbar said the "false, baseless and wild allegations have caused irreparable damage" to his reputation, and wondered why "this storm has risen" a few months before the general election?

"Lies do not have legs, but they do contain poison, which can be whipped into a frenzy. This is deeply distressing. As indicated above, I will be taking appropriate legal action," he said.

Akbar's name cropped up on social media when he was in Nigeria.

The women who accused Akbar of sexual harassment included Priya Ramani, Ghazala Wahab, Shuma Raha, Anju Bharti and Shutapa Paul.

"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.' If I didn't do anything, where and what is the story?," he asked.

"Shutapa Paul states, 'The man never laid a hand on me.' Shuma Raha says, 'I must clarify, however, 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," Akbar said.

The minister said both Ramani and Wahab kept working with him even after these alleged incidents, claiming that it clearly established that they had no apprehension and discomfort.

Besides the Congress, the CPI(M) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen demanded Akbar's removal as minister. The Bharatiya Janata Party has maintained a studied silence on the matter so far.

When questioned on the issue Textiles Minister Smriti Irani had Thursday said Akbar himself would be better positioned to speak on the issue. She had urged people not to mock women speaking out against the harassment meted out to them.

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has said her ministry plans to set up a panel of legal experts to look into the allegations of sexual harassment that have surfaced in the #MeToo campaign, asserting that she believes in the "pain and trauma" of every complainant.

(With PTI inputs)

| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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