MJ Akbar Has Money And Power. All Priya Ramani Has Is You, Me And The Truth
Akbar might have resigned, but this is no time to rejoice.
You really should have paid more attention to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in 2015. I did and I turned a ghostly shade of Fair & Lovely when he arrogantly issued a warning to the nation: “Our ministers do not have to resign; this is not their (Congress’s) government, this is NDA government.”
This was when several BJP ministers had come under fire for different reasons: Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje for kicking off a fabulous trend that PM Narendra Modi has faithfully followed: letting their billionaire buddies flee the country with our money. In their case it was Lalit Modi, the first of the two Other Modis who were given fond farewells and tiffin boxes packed with dhoklas, paneer rolls and eggless muffins for their journeys across the kaala pani (black waters). Then there was liar-liar-khadi-saree-on-fire Smriti Irani who gave false affidavits about her educational qualifications, and Pankaja Munde for her role in the Chikki scam. If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the lethal Vyapam scam, it’s because I’m not a very brave person (unlike Priya Ramani, who I will get to later).
So when allegations against MJ Akbar were doing the rounds during India’s wave of #MeToo anger, I didn’t hold my breath waiting for him to resign when he returned to India on Sunday. And of course, he didn’t resign. I’m assuming that he consulted his BJP bosses and his tarot card reader over gau mutra on the rocks before he decided to brazen it out. He also filed a defamation case against Priya Ramani (the first of the complainants). Akbar looked invincible. He had the might of the state behind him (by which I mean BJP party president Amit Shah, better known as a confirmed stalker, alleged fake encounter specialist, alleged extortionist and alleged murderer) and a formidable law firm with 97 cut-throat lawyers to fight for him. And suddenly Priya Ramani looked very tiny indeed. Like Thumbelina, but with a slingshot.
All was well again for Akbar. His boss, the Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, was happily warbling “Stand by your man” at a meeting on Monday. I gather that as far as Akbar was concerned, as long as he never invited her to his hotel room and greeted her in his bathrobe or undies (like his did with his former employees), she would continue to sing that song.
And then, on Tuesday night, something happened that his tarot card reader never warned him about: women who formerly worked at the Asian Age and its sister companies were silently queuing up to add their names to the list. Some had their own horror stories of molestation, others claimed to have witnessed him sexually harassing colleagues. At last count, 33 women are prepared to testify against him, but the numbers are growing. Males who formerly worked at the Asian Age have jumped in as well: So far we have Rashid Kidwai, Akshaya Mukul and Kamlesh Singh (may their tribe increase!).
Wednesday will forever be remembered as Eno Fruit Salts day in the BJP. Rajnath Singh ate his we-do-not-resign words with salt, chaat masala and a squeeze of lime. Narendra Modi, who has a history of backing his ministers when they have faced criminal charges/been charge-sheeted ever since his days as the CM of Gujarat, crumbled. And his Man Friday, BJP Party President Amit Shah who can allegedly turn unfriendly people into corpses, gave in. MJ Akbar resigned, hooray!
A word of caution, though: this is no time to rejoice—wait for the court case. The BJP is extremely vindictive and extremely flush with funds. Their money has come from several sources of which demonetisation, airport escort services for fleeing billionaire criminal buddies, multiple scams, donations from homesick NRI bigots, corporate consultations with Nagpur on how to fix business rivals, are just a few. With so much money tucked into his princess-and-the-pea mattress, Amit Shah can buy whatever he feels like: pan parag with 24-carat gold flakes, MLAs/MPs for 100 Cr each, friendly judges, not-so-friendly judges who obligingly have fatal ‘heart attacks’, and the best criminal cadre in the business. I have tweaked a quote from MJ Akbar to give you a sense of just what Shah is all about: “Amit Shah is so short and round that he looks like he has no legs but he does contain poison which can be whipped into a frenzy.”
All Priya Ramani has is the truth (she firmly declares that it’s on her side), her former colleagues, and you and me. This is a battle for the Sisterhood. If she loses, we lose. Public outrage had better surpass ‘India against Corruption’ levels (without Baba Ramdev’s ludicrous cross-dressing acts, please), or else we’re doomed. I wasn’t Charlie Hebdo, and I really like being Rupa Gulab, but till she wins the case, #IAmPriyaRamani.
Rupa Gulab is a Mumbai-based freelance writer and columnist, and the author of Girl Alone and Chip of the Old Blockhead.