New Delhi: Minister of state for external affairs M.J. Akbar resigned from his post on Wednesday, a day before a Delhi court was to hear a criminal defamation case filed by him against journalist Priya Ramani, the first among a large number of female journalists to accuse the former newspaper editor of sexual harassment.
In a brief statement explaining his decision that came amid India’s growing #MeToo movement, Akbar said he wanted to pursue the court case in his personal capacity.
“Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge the false accusations levied against me also in a personal capacity," he said.
“I have therefore tendered my resignation from the office of minister of state for external affairs."
The resignation has been accepted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said a person aware of the development.
“The President of India, as advised by the prime minister has accepted the resignation of Mr MJ Akbar from the Union council of ministers with immediate effect," a statement from the President’s office said.
Akbar’s resignation came after the number of journalists accusing him of sexual misconduct kept increasing. It also came as several male journalists joined hands with their female colleagues in calling for action against Akbar, accused of sexual harassment when he was working as an editor and in other senior positions in several news publications.
“I was in #Asianage political bureau between 1993-96 & #IBelieve @ghazalawahab @SuparnaSharma @TushitaPatel," said a post by author and former journalist Rasheed Kidwai, currently a fellow with the New Delhi- based Observer Research Foundation think tank.
The charges against Akbar first came to light in a Twitter post by journalist and Mint columnist Priya Ramani on 8 October when she named the journalist-turned-politician as the editor she had alluded to in an article in Vogue magazine on sexual harassment at the workplace in October 2017.
Akbar was on an official trip to Africa when Ramani named him.
He returned to New Delhi on Sunday and issued a statement which described the allegations as “false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice".
On Monday, Akbar filed a criminal defamation case against Ramani claiming that irreparable damage had been done to his reputation.
His decision to step down was welcomed by Ramani. “As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar’s resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court #metoo," Ramani said in a Twitter post.
According to people familiar with the developments, the government’s strategy seems to have been to allow Akbar to complete his Africa tour and return to India before taking a decision on calls for his resignation.
Akbar was given a chance to present his case, which he did via his statement issued on Sunday.
He attended office according to his routine on Monday and Tuesday. Though Akbar sat with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj for official meetings in the ministry, there was no specific meeting on the allegations against Akbar.
“With the number of accusations increasing day by day, his position was becoming untenable," said a second person familiar with the matter.
“There was a (negative) perception of the government that was gaining ground and the considered view was that this would be harmful for the government considering all the hard work put in over the past four years on various issues, including development." this person said.
“There were several people or levels of party and the government that were involved in Akbar tendering his resignation," the person said.
The decision that Akbar should step down was taken at the top levels of the government and the party, said a third person familiar with the matter. Akbar could have been given a sense of this when National Security Adviser Ajit Doval met him on Tuesday.