Indian government minister resigns, denies sex harassment claims Taliban target NATO convoy, killing two Afghan civilians
M.J. Akbar, India’s junior external affairs minister, resigned Wednesday amid accusations by 20 women of sexual harassment during his previous career as one of the country’s most prominent news editors, becoming the most powerful man to fall in India’s burgeoning #Metoo movement.
Akbar said in a statement that he would “challenge false accusations” in a personal capacity, referring to a criminal defamation case he filed Monday against the first woman to accuse him.
Akbar, 67, first served as a lawmaker for India’s then-ruling India National Congress party between 1989 and 1991. He then edited The Telegraph, The Asian Age and other newspapers and wrote several books of nonfiction, becoming one of the most influential people in the Indian news media.
He returned to public life in March 2014, when he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party and was appointed national spokesman during the 2014 election that brought the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power.
Akbar maintained a low profile after joining India’s Ministry of External Affairs in July 2016 as its junior minister, representing India overseas at multinational conferences.
On Wednesday he thanked Modi, who had remained silent about the allegations, for the opportunity to serve in public office.
In India’s deeply conservative society, the #Metoo movement began belatedly but has picked up steam in recent weeks. Since September, Indian actresses and writers have flooded social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by their superiors and colleagues.
The string of accusations against Akbar began when journalist Priya Ramani identified him on Twitter on Oct. 8 as the unnamed editor that she had described in a story about newsroom sexual harassment published in Vogue last year.
Other women in media have alleged that Akbar interviewed job candidates in hotel rooms at night; groped, massaged and forcibly kissed young interns and employees; and offered young women choice out-of-town postings so that he could go visit them there. Zabihullah Mujahid said an insurgent suicide bomber rammed his car into the NATO convoy.
The attack on the NATO convoy came at the end of a particularly violent day across Afghanistan as tensions are rising ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections on Saturday.
A Taliban bombing in southern Helmand province killed a candidate running in the elections. The Taliban also attacked checkpoints in the northern Baghlan province, killing six policemen and wounding two others in a four-hour battle. Also, in eastern Maidan Wardak province, a suicide car bomber targeted a military vehicle, killing two Afghan army troops.
The Taliban have threatened the polls and warned teachers and students not to participate in the vote and not to allow schools to be used as polling centers.
The insurgents said in a statement Wednesday that they will target Saturday’s elections, which they view as illegitimate, but that they do not want to harm civilians.