MJ AKBAR ON THE DEFENSIVE: Caught in sex-related allegations, celebrity Editor might not continue as Union minister


NEW DELHI: Union minister of state for external affairs, MJ Akbar, is on edge following a flurry of exposes under the #ME TOO banner by a set of women journalists who had worked with him in the past. In a chorus targeting the minister, the women, one after another, wrote about how the former Editor of various publications had allegedly made sexual advances towards them. 

According to some of these women, Akbar made several inappropriate gestures that embarrassed them. He as Editor had called them for interviews into his room in star hotels, one of them alleged. Another alleged that he would drop in at her home at night, and another said he would propose that he would visit her house “for coffee” at odd hours.

The minister is currently on an official visit of Nigeria, and it is rumoured that the PMO has asked him to return. Whether any action is contemplated against him is not clear, but there is a strong feeling in the BJP that at a time when the Lok Sabha polls is approaching, the Opposition might target the government on this count.


Akbar started his journalistic stint with the Times of India in Mumbai in 1971 and then shifted to the same publishing group’s Illustrated Weekly there (then Bombay) under the legendary editor Kushwant Singh in the 1970s. Later, he functioned as Editor of Outlook, of the Free Press Journal group. After a while, he is believed to have gone to Patna and handled a journal there for some time. Later, he landed in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and took over as the Editor of Sunday weekly magazine of the Anand Bazar Patrika group. In 1982, when the publishing house started The Telegraph newspaper, he was made its Editor too. Akbar acquitted himself well and earned huge reputation as a modern-day Editor with a fresh frame of mind. 

Akbar, 67, was born into a Bihari family in West Bengal. His paternal grandfather was a Hindu, who eventually converted to Islam, as per Akbar’s own statement. He had also stated that one of his parents was a Kashmiri.  

Notably, Akbar was among the first to introduce young  girls fresh from college into the journalism profession. He had a large crop of them in the ABP group in Calcutta in the 1980s. He is widely perceived to have had a highly professional approach to journalism, also a reason why both Sunday and The Telegraph made huge impacts on the young readers. As a result, and for other (management) reasons too, the main English newspaper in Calcutta in those days, The Statesman, hit a bad patch. Over the past decades, it has not been able to recover ground, also for the reason it has nothing to attract the large and young lot of English newspaper readers. The Statesman is seen as old hat meant for the serious readers.

Akbar left the ABP group to participate in the conduct of TV programmes in Doordarshan, an engagement he first started while working as Editor of the two ABP publications. Young and dashing, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi took a liking for him, and introduced him to Congress politics, also with a view to giving a new face to the Muslim leadership in the Congress party. The two got along very well.

In 1989, he won the Kishanganj Lok Sabha seat from Bihar, on a Congress ticket. He was also made a spokesperson of the Congress during the Rajiv Gandhi era. 

However, the demise of Rajiv Gandhi in the Sriperambadur assassination by the LTTE suicide bombers, and the taking over of the Congress leadership from behind by Sonia Gandhi spelt doom for Akbar as a politician. It was rumoured that Sonia Gandhi had a strong distaste to Akbar’s styles — mainly to his temperament — and he fell into the bad books of the new Congress leadership. He quit politics in 1992. 

The next year, Akbar launched The Asian Age with a strong international news and views content, at a time when established Indian newspapers covered mostly domestic fare. He did the launch with funding from the Hindujas, and it had an international edition published from London under Akbar’s supervision. Asian Age eventually went into the hands of the Deccan Chronicle proprietor L Venkitram Reddy. Reddy also enslisted Akbar to be the Editor in Chief of the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle.

Akbar injected new life into DC, and turned it into a respectable national daily with a strong southern base. The format he had painstakingly set for the paper still continues without changes. L Venkitram Reddy, could not suffer Akbar for long, also for the huge salary he gave to the seasoned editor who opted to sit in Delhi and run the paper from Hyderabad. Out of the blue, one fine morning, Reddy issued the marching orders to Akbar. It was in 2008. 

Akbar, after he quit DC and Asian Age, started Covert magazine (in 2008), which however failed to make an impact. In 2014, after the Modi government came to power, he returned to active politics. First, he functioned as the BJP’s spokesperson and later became a minister of state under Sushma Swaraj in the External Affairs Ministry. In this capacity, he mostly spent his time abroad, liaising with governments in the Middle East and Africa to push India’s cause. For years, he maintained a personal line with the Saudi Royal Family as also the Organisation of Islamic Nations. –IHN-NN

INDIA HERE AND NOW http://www.indiahereandnow.com email:indianow999@gmail.com

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