The story behind MJ Akbar’s quitting: Modi kept mum, but his hand was forced

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You have to be addicted to the chase – the highs and lows – to be a reporter.


The adrenaline thrill of getting a scoop. Getting it first and the uncertainty that follows. That played out to me, gentle readers of Gulf News, in the sordid saga of alleged sex pest – now resigned minister in the Narendra Modi government, M.J. Akbar.

akbar

There were nearly 20 credible accounts of despicable behavior; of alleged serial sexual abuse. Top sources in the Modi government told me he would quit, which I reported faithfully.

Akbar, the epitome of brazenness – I guess you have to be brazen to greet a young woman wearing nothing but your underwear, as one account recounted – tried to cling on like a limpet but the sordid saga ended with his resignation.

Akbar, India’s Harvey Weinstein complete with bathrobe, is the first-ever minister in the Modi government to resign during the last four-and-a-half years.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid lip service to women’s rights with his showpiece “Beti bacchao, beti padhao” (Save our girls, educate our girls) campaign. He has also been mum on the horrific allegations against his erstwhile minister Akbar.

Curiously, while cipher women in the Modi government made some generic noises about supporting the women, who were joining in to tell their stories in the #metoo movement, the men were mum.

It was a nudge from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that made Modi do the right thing. The RSS number three, Dattatreya Hosabale, went public on his support for the movement. Sources said Sangh Chief Mohan Bhagwat was prepared to make an adverse reference to Akbar shamelessly clinging on to his cushy job in his annual Vijaya Dashami address.

Sushma Swaraj, who was Akbar’s boss, made her feelings evident by refusing to allow her junior minister to meet her to give his explanation. Swaraj refused to even attend official functions if he was present.

Akbar was also unable to recall exactly how many women he had allegedly sexually harassed in his long career as an editor. With defiant women outing him daily, the Modi government was on a long, painful slow bleed. The spectacle of the “Union of India versus Priya Ramani,” a senior journalist who had first named Akbar and against whom he filed a defamation case, was the stuff nightmare news cycles are made of.

A lone woman versus an alleged sexual predator commanding the might of the Government of India in general election season. The upcoming critical state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh made Modi blink.

Narendra Modi

The Narendra Modi and Amit Shah duo are textbook bullies – they can never admit they have made a mistake. In this case, Arun Jaitley Union Finance Minister, aided and abetted them by saying the #metoo movement was a storm in a Twitter tea cup, fanned by Modi hating urban women, which would have no traction outside the cities. Jaitley also got his friend Raen Karanjawala drafted with his firm of 97 lawyers to fight Akbar’s defamation case.

The pushback from the Sangh and the courage of the women determined to bear witness to Akbar’s transgressions took the trio entirely by surprise.

Akbar is now the biggest scalp in the movement, which shows no sign of abetting. Many powerful men in the media and even Bollywood have been outed and forced to step aside such as Prashant Jha of the Hindustan Times and Sajid Khan from his directorial venture. It sends a powerful message that Bollywood acted before Modi.

Sajid Khan

Sajid Khan

Others, such as public relations man, Suhel Seth, accused by multiple women, seem to have gone underground as companies associated with him hastily and publicly break up the relationship. Alok Nath, accused of alleged rape, has filed a defamation case against his accuser Vinta Nanda.

Alok Nath 2

Alok Nath

But in a sexist, patriarchal society such as India where “izzat” (honour) is vested in a woman’s body and sexual harassment is her shame, the winds of change and the chimes of freedom are ringing.

Those outing their harassers have rightly put the shame where it belongs – with the aggressor. These young women have educated old, entitled and powerful men about consent, something which was alien to them.

Thinker Swati Chaturvedi

Despite, some women enablers desperately trying to discredit #metoo, the avalanche of allegations and the rush for correction in the workplace proves something significant has changed.

It’s a new India all right, just not the one Modi kept trying to deploy as a slogan.

This new India is intolerant to injustice to women. And leaders better walk the talk of women empowerment or they will be reduced to yesterday’s men.

Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll – Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @bainjal.

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