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MJ Akbar Must Quit for the Sake of a Free & Fair Investigation

The ruling government will be unwise in not taking a decisive stance on the MJ Akbar case.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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‘15-minute fame’ (shame on those who use such expressions), ‘political conspiracy to malign me and my party’, ‘attempts to damage reputation’ — these are some of the defenses used by many who have been called out in the ongoing #MeToo movement in India.

Union Minister M J Akbar is one of most high-profile personalities who has been accused of harassing many women. And his response has been shocking – to say the least.

In fact, he has gone a step further and has filed a criminal defamation case against the first of the many accusers.

Now we have a situation where one accuser is pitted against a union minister who is backed by a team of 97 lawyers.

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The Cloak of Protection ‘Star Power’ Offers

Akbar’s statement on Sunday, which spoke of a ‘conspiracy’ against him and subsequent legal challenges the following day, is telling of the kind of personality he comes across as now. He should have quit his membership from the union council of ministers on moral grounds. But then again, rules of morality apply to lesser mortals – not to a high-profile editor-turned-politician like M J Akbar.

But is a free and fair trial possible if a union minister is up against an aggrieved citizen?

The principles of public probity demand that he should step aside till the trial is over. If he is not willing to fall in line, the onus is on the prime minister to set high standards and relieve him of all his duties with immediate effect.

From all the accusations that are in the public domain, it seems that Akbar, the then editor, took his manhood’s superiority for granted.

It turns out, again from the testimonies of women who we have no reason to disbelieve, that he assumed consent because he was a star and expected everyone else to fall in line or risk elimination. A ‘return favour’ was a given for him.

His so-called star power was a bait to lure unsuspecting women who would be shocked out of their wits, having found themselves in the most unexpected of situations — formal meetings in hotel rooms in which Akbar was clad in nothing but a bathrobe, uncomfortable encounters in his office cabins, and even in cars. Women’s testimonies have described all these shocking situations in detail.

No More Room for ‘Macho Nationalism’

By mounting a legal challenge against the survivors, Akbar has shown that he believes in the superiority of men vis-à-vis women. How can – what prima facie looks like a case of perversion and sexual exploitation of women – be any different for him or his backers? Perhaps, he and his backers stand for macho nationalism that believes in using women. And if needed, abusing them.

Macho nationalism is built on the principle of coercion and has therefore no place for feeble concept like consent.

Silencing and intimidation are two of its potent tools. It thrives on the mistaken belief that “I am a star and therefore entitled to all the perks coming my way”. The proponents of such a perverse line think that “since I am a star, I have the infinite power to make a star out of ordinary mortals. All that I want in return is some gratification, sexual or otherwise. How can lesser mortals say no to me, the proprietor of a factory churning out stars?”

Now that some have dared to challenge such a mindset, it is considered an affront, an audacious act that needs to be nipped in the bud.

Mr Akbar, macho nationalism may have worked for you thus far, as scores of women have alleged. But time to make amends now. The least you could have done was tender an unconditional apology to all the women you have offended. You have gone on the offensive instead, adding salt to their injured souls. You can still make amends by stepping down immediately and face a trial.

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Ruling Govt Needs to Take a Strong Stand – And Now

Think of the survivors for a while. They have come out now, mindful of great personal and professional risks involved, after suffering years of pain. How humiliated they must have felt when they were at the receiving end of, what they considered, unwanted sexual advances? Can you ever empathise with them?

And the BJP leadership has done itself immense harm by not acting decisively on the issue.

For a government that shouts Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao from rooftops, not taking a stand now in this case, amounts to insulting all the daughters who feel threatened by the high and mighty. BJP leadership may be seen as giving tacit support to this perverse brand of macho nationalism. Macho nationalism, as we have seen thus far, is anathema to democratic ethos.

The BJP leadership can ill-afford to take such a risk – of going against the collective will of the people.

And to the brave women who have spoken out, we are with you. You are the torchbearers of this movement, and the least we can do is support you in your long and arduous journey in search of justice.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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