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Who next? Silence envelops politics on #MeToo

BJP and Congress silent on #MeToo claims, fear that it may lead to more allegations and counter-allegations

By Our Special Correspondent in New Delhi
  • Published 10.10.18, 3:14 AM
  • Updated 10.10.18, 11:29 AM
  • 2 mins read
Illustration by Rahul Awasthi

The Narendra Modi government and the BJP maintained a calibrated silence on Tuesday amid a clamour on social media for action against junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar who has been named in the #MeToo campaign.

The BJP dodged the bullet and passed it on to the government. Official sources said it was for Akbar to decide whether or not to respond to the allegations of misconduct.

The government, in general, and the external affairs ministry, in particular, did not intend to use official channels to put out a statement as the matter did not pertain to his tenure as minister, sources said.

The view was more or less echoed by the Opposition Congress also, reflecting concerns that an overdrive could descend into a blizzard of allegations and counter-allegations in the run-up to elections.

Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj remained tightlipped when reporters asked her whether there would be a probe into the allegations.

Later in the day, the BJP refused to take questions on the issue at a media conference. Spokesperson Sambit Patra said the briefing was essentially on Gujarat and referred all queries pertaining to Akbar to the government and the ministry.

Women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi alone spoke out. In reply to a question, she said: “There should definitely be an investigation. Men in positions of power often do this. This applies to the media, to politics, and to senior personnel in companies…. Now when women have started speaking up, we should take action on each and every allegation.”

Akbar, who is now in Nigeria, has not spoken 24 hours since more than one journalist named him.

The Congress dealt with the issue gingerly, describing it as an extremely serious matter but stopping short of calling for his resignation. “The minister concerned needs to speak up. Silence cannot be a way out. The matter should be investigated and we would like to hear from the minister and the Prime Minister,” Congress spokesperson and former minister of state for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari said in response to questions.

Other Congress leaders pointed to the fact that the allegations pertained to a period when he was not a minister. Add to this the fear that a shrill stand could well set in motion a chain of events where allegations are levelled against many leaders, making it a free-for-all that no one will be able to control in the election season.

The Editors Guild of India issued a statement condemning “all predatory behaviour” by men in newsrooms.

While there is no mention of Akbar in the statement, the Guild said: “It is worse when the perpetrators also happen to be enjoying senior or supervisory positions in the profession.”

Stating that a fair, just and safe working environment is essential for press freedoms to flourish, the Guild said: “The newsroom in our profession is a relatively informal, free-spirited and hallowed space. It must be protected.”

It urged all media organisations to hold unbiased inquiries into all reported cases and take action as mandated by the law.