Former Union Minister MJ Akbar, cross-examined in a Delhi court on Saturday in a defamation case filed by him against journalist Priya Ramani, said that he does not remember their meeting in 1993 and other details related to her sexual misconduct allegations made last year. Ms Ramani's charges had forced MJ Akbar to step down at the peak of the #MeToo movement that unleashed a wave of accusations against prominent public figures.
MJ Akbar had appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal in connection with his defamation complaint against Mr Ramani today. Firmly denying any wrongdoing, Mr Akbar said that her "offensive words had "adversely affected" his public life and damaged a "lifetime's good reputation".
The politician's claims came while he was being cross-examined by senior advocate Rebecca John on his meeting with Ms Ramani for a job at the Asian Age newspaper.
MJ Akbar's lapse in memory was in relation to a question on a meeting at his Mumbai office in December 1993, and another on his alleged invitation to meet him at the Oberoi Hotel.
For both the questions, he had a single response: "I do not remember."
The courtroom witnessed heated exchanges between MJ Akbar and Ms Ramani's lawyers during the course of the hearing. Senior advocate Geeta Luthra - appearing for Mr Akbar - interrupted Ms Ramani's counsel several times with demands that the cross-examination be conducted in question-answer format. She was finally asked to stop by the judge.
"This is a defamation case. If she is convicted, she will be going to jail for two years. Let her defend herself properly," he told Geeta Luthra.
Mr Akbar, in his statement, said that the "unwarranted, defamatory and mala fide attacks" by Ms Ramani had affected his reputation negatively. "I chose to resign from my position as Minister of State because the allegations were made in a personal capacity," he said.
The politician said that his family and friends were "profoundly hurt" and "extremely upset" after the allegations against him emerged, and it was only after hearing his version of the story that they "began to understand the nature of this assault" on his reputation.
"They had questions and I also received calls because these attacks were unwarranted, defamatory and mala fide. This obviously affected my public life. Yes indeed, it affected my reputation very negatively," MJ Akbar said.
(With inputs from PTI)