A call on Akbar’s continuation in the government will be taken after he returns from his foreign tour on Sunday. While there were reports that he was returning on Friday, government sources clarified he is in Equatorial Guinea as per his original schedule.
The minister has been at the centre of a controversy over the past few days relating to his conduct as an editor during his earlier career as a journalist, with several women alleging that he behaved inappropriately with them.
While the incidents relate to a period when he was not a BJP member and are seen to fall in the domain of his personal conduct, the view that Akbar’s continuance is becoming untenable is growing. It is felt that the controversy and detailed allegations have generated a negative impression which the party needs to address. He is expected to be given the opportunity to respond to allegations against him, some of which go back several years, but could be called on to resign if the explanations are not satisfactory.
A clear indication that BJP and RSS may not see reports of misconduct as a “personal” matter came with RSS joint general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale sharing on his Twitter account a Facebook post by a senior official of the social networking site that said the accounts of women journalists raised a serious question of propriety.
The post said, “You needn’t have a #MeToo moment to support the woman journalists who have narrated their victimisation. You needn’t even be a woman. You just need to have a sensibility of what is right and what is wrong.” Hosabale tweeted the post and said, “I liked it. She has articulated what I was feeling.”
While BJP and government spokespersons refused to offer any comments on questions relating to Akbar’s tenure in the government, textile minister Smriti Irani said it was for him to issue a statement. “The gentleman concerned would be in a better position to speak on the issue. I appreciate that the media is accosting his female colleagues, but I think it is for the gentleman concerned to issue a statement, not for me,” she said.
The allegations levelled by women journalists against Akbar have led to a social media storm and led to calls for his resignation. With the government often stressing its commitment to women issues through schemes ranging from “Beti Bachao, Beti Badhao” to “Ujjwala”, the blowback over “MeToo” charges is making the former journalist-turned-politician’s continuation in government untenable.
The allegations levelled against Akbar range from inappropriate behaviour while interviewing female candidates for jobs to harassment of colleagues who worked with him.
Irani said she supported women who were coming out with their accounts of sexual harassment in journalism. She added that anybody speaking out should in no way be shamed, victimised or mocked. “That is my only appeal to everybody who is witnessing this surge of outpouring of emotions of anger on the internet and offline also,” Irani said.