Adjust Your Focus

Why Congress Hasn’t Launched Full-frontal Attack Against BJP Over MJ Akbar #MeToo Charges


Union Minister and former journalist MJ Akbar is in the eye of a storm as the #MeToo movement gathers momentum in India. The minister of state for external affairs has been accused of sexual harassment by several women. One would think, the opposition Congress would fire all cylinders and put the BJP government in a spot but surprisingly that has not been the case.

The Congress’ reticence tells a different story. At the end of Thursday’s press conference that focused on Rafale, Rahul Gandhi was asked a question on the #MeToo movement and MJ Akbar. The Congress chief said that this was a big issue and he would speak separately on it. It seemed he was advised by party colleagues.

Congress sources say they wanted to keep the focus on the Rafale deal and Rahul’s reply on MeToo and Akbar would have done the exact opposite.

The Congress has made some noise on the #MeToo issue but that attack has been mild to say the least. Rahul tweeted in support of the movement but there was no mention of Akbar or a resignation.
“It about time everyone learns to treat women with respect and dignity. I am glad the space for those who don’t is closing. The truth needs to be told loud and clear in order to bring about change,” his tweet read.

The restraint has been surprising because Congress could have easily targeted the Narendra Modi government for not sacking Akbar.

A senior party leader said the issue is a double-edged sword. “While it certainly puts a huge question mark over the PM’s commitment to women empowerment, the fire could singe the Congress as well,” he said.

The Congress itself is mired in two sexual harassment controversies. One regarding NSUI president Fairoz Khan and another of a leader who has been accused of harassing a colleague. In both cases, the matter reached Rahul’s door and questions are being asked about the silence and lack of action.

Sources say the Congress fears that its own leaders could be involved in an Akbar-like controversy. There have been rumours going rounds in party circles about women ticket seekers being asked for sexual favours. With elections round the corner, such complaints may fly thick and fast and hence the cautious approach.

A senior leader said there are cases where some former Congress ministers have been accused of seeking sexual favours. “The party leadership is aware of many of these cases but no one speaks openly and so no action can be taken. But in an election season, the charges might become public and hurt the Congress.”

To make matters worse, Akbar was brought into politics by the Congress. His close links to the Nehru-Gandhi family are well known and it would be naïve of Congress leaders to claim they were unaware of his reputation.

So as of now, the Congress prefers to watch from distance as the BJP and Akbar is battling the #MeToo charges. But the silence can hurt the party when women empowerment continues to be one of the major issues in the electoral battle ahead.

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