#MeToo: Akbar's fate to be decided after his return

Akbar was in Abuja since early this week to attend the two-day conference on New Delhi’s relations with West Africa

The fate of #MeToo-stung Minister of State for External Affairs M J Akbar is likely to be decided after he returns to New Delhi after completing his tour to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

The Minister of State for External Affairs was in the capital of Nigeria to attend a conclave on New Delhi’s relations with West Africa when the #MeToo campaign stung him back in India. 

Several women journalists posted on Twitter since Monday, alleging that Akbar, who had a long career in media before he started dabbling in politics, had inappropriately behaved with them or sexually harassed them when he was the editor of a newspaper they had either wanted to work for or worked for.    

Akbar was in Abuja since early this week to attend the two-day conference on New Delhi’s relations with West Africa, which was held by Confederation of Indian Industry and the Export Bank of India on Monday and Tuesday. 

He called on Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and had a meeting with the country’s Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama on Tuesday. He also delivered a lecture on Wednesday on “Geo-Strategic Relations between India and Nigeria with Defence Cooperation as a Key Pillar” at Nigerian Army Resource Centre in Abuja.

He is scheduled to fly from Abuja to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, on Thursday. He is likely to return to New Delhi late on Saturday or early on Sunday. 

Sources said that he had not yet received any communication from New Delhi to cut short his visit and had not yet made any change in his travel plans. 

The allegations by women journalists against the Minister of State for External Affairs prompted many in social media to seek his resignation from the Council of Ministers headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The opposition parties like the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) also stepped up pressure on the BJP-led Government at the Centre seeking his removal from the office.

The BJP, however, maintained silence on the allegation against Akbar, who is also a member of the Rajya Sabha from Jharkhand. The spokespersons of the ruling party refrained from defending him too.

Prime Minister, BJP president Amit Shah and other senior leaders of the ruling party had a discussion on the allegations against Akbar. It was also discussed informally on the sideline of a meeting of the Union Cabinet on Wednesday. Prime Minister too had a discussion with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on the issue; sources in New Delhi told the DH.

Swaraj on Tuesday chose to maintain silence when journalists asked her for her comment on the allegation against her junior colleague.

A section of the BJP top brass is concerned over the adverse impact its inaction on the issue could have on its image, with assembly polls in five states scheduled to take place in November and December and the parliamentary elections less than a year away. 

Some of the party leaders and the senior members of the Union Cabinet are understood to have argued that if Akbar was allowed to continue as Minister of State for External Affairs even after such serious allegations came up against him, it might send out a wrong message about the BJP’s stand on the issues involving rights and dignity of women. 

The BJP, however, is also keen to make it sure that if Akbar is indeed relieved of his responsibility as Minister of State for External Affairs, it is rather projected as an example of its zero-tolerance policy on allegations of sexual harassment and assault within its rank and file and not as an instance of the ruling party succumbing to pressure from the opposition.

 Sources said that Modi might give Akbar a chance to defend himself before deciding on his fate. The Minister of State for External Affairs might be summoned to the Prime Minister’s residence at Lok Kalyan Marg after his return to New Delhi.

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#MeToo: Akbar's fate to be decided after his return

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