- MJ Akbar has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual harassment
- Has vehemently denied allegations, filed case against key #MeToo accuser
- "Appropriate to step down and challenge false accusations", he said
Union Minister MJ Akbar, accused of sex harassment by multiple women, resigned on Wednesday, becoming the most high profile person to exit his job in a growing #MeToo movement in India. Three days ago, Mr Akbar had sued one of his 20 accusers for defamation, alleging a conspiracy to harm his reputation. The case will be heard today.
"Since I have decided to seek justice in a court of law in my personal capacity, I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me, also in a personal capacity," Mr Akbar, 67, said in a statement.
The journalist-turned-politician, who became Minister of State for External Affairs two years ago, is the first in the BJP-led government to quit over an allegation.
Top sources in the government said the decision to step down was Mr Akbar's and he will remain in the BJP. "This will not set a precedent," the sources said.
Mr Akbar was earlier seen to have decided to ignore demands for his resignation after being called out by women who had either worked with him or had brief encounters during his days as editor of several newspapers. "Accusations without evidence have become a viral fever," he said after returning from a foreign trip on Sunday.
A day later, Mr Akbar sued Priya Ramani, the first woman to name him, and accused her of vested interests in maligning his reputation on the basis of false, frivolous and scandalous grounds.
Top ministers and the ruling BJP said very little about the allegations. But more and more women came out against the minister, and in an election year, said sources, it was time for the government to cut its losses.
"As women we feel vindicated by MJ Akbar's resignation. I look forward to the day when I will also get justice in court," said Priya Ramani.
Nineteen journalists had come out in her support last evening, saying she was not alone and that they would testify in court against Mr Akbar.
The #MeToo movement, which began in the US more than a year ago in response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in the entertainment industry, gained traction in India last month after former actor Tanushree Dutta accused her co-star Nana Patekar of sexual harassment on the sets of a film in 2008.
Since then, several men in the media, entertainment, political and art worlds have been accused of offences, ranging from sexual harassment to rape.
The opposition Congress had also been relatively muted in its criticism of the government over the allegations against Mr Akbar. The chief of its youth wing has also stepped down over harassment allegations.