India minister denies misconduct after #MeToo accusations

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s junior external affairs minister on Sunday denied any wrongdoing after more than a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct when he was a newspaper editor.

M.J. Akbar threatened to take legal action against the women, calling the allegations “false, baseless and wild” in a statement issued hours after he returned from an official trip to Africa.

It’s the first time Akbar has reacted publicly to the string of accusations against him amid calls from journalists and opposition politicians for him to resign.

“The allegations of misconduct made against me are false and fabricated, spiced up by innuendo and malice,” Akbar said in the statement. “I could not reply earlier as I was on an official tour abroad.”

He said the accusations lacked evidence and were “deeply distressing,” and had “become a viral fever among some sections.” He called the allegations part of an “agenda” a few months before India’s general election.

Since last month, several Indian actresses and writers have taken to social media with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by their superiors and colleagues, mainly at workplaces. They have also increasingly expressed frustration with an anti-harassment law that has been lauded internationally but has done little to change the status quo in the world’s largest democracy.

On Saturday, several journalists held a protest in New Delhi and demanded Akbar’s resignation.

The string of allegations began with a tweet from journalist Priya Ramani on Oct. 8 in which she said Akbar was the man who had harassed her as mentioned in her article for Vogue India a year ago. Since then, over a dozen other women, mostly journalists who worked with Akbar or appeared for job interviews when he was an editor in Kolkata and New Delhi, have accused him of sexual harassment in the #MeToo campaign sweeping India.

Indian journalists expressed anger at Akbar’s denial.

Harinder Baweja, one of the journalists who accused Akbar of sexual harassment, tweeted, “The only ‘agenda’, to borrow the word from M.J. Akbar’s statement is ... enough is enough.”