On Akbar and the #MeToo Movement

 Akbar’s Follies, BJP’s Arrogance and Middle Class Hypocrisy

Photo Courtesy: Indian Express

Former Minister of State for External Affairs in the Modi Cabinet, MJ Akbar had resigned after this piece was written. It is still relevant Editors}

Everybody is surprised. Why does Narendra Modi continue to carry on with such a huge embarrassment in his cabinet: even while (a) Akbar does not carry much political weight, nor a mass-base, nor does he even have a skilful hold on organisational structures and leaderships? (b) Modi’s ‘Beti Bachao’ campaign is being rendered hollow while sort of letting Akbar abuse his office by hiring as many as 97 advocates. This in itself may suggest spectacularly that Akbar himself is shaken and lacks confidence in the merit of his defence.    

The vocation of politics has increasingly been losing decency and morality. More and more people perceived as ruffians, land mafia, and sex-racketeers, and accused of rape, murder, loot, gangsterism, etc., are becoming legislatures.    

Akbar, however owes his rise into politics to his previous association with the Congress because of his outstanding professionalism in sort of introducing and popularising investigative journalism. Later, he turned hostile against Sonia Gandhi which endeared him to the BJP. Thus, while he rose through the Congress because of his professional distinction, his continuation in the Narendra Modi cabinet, despite mounting (as many as 20 women have thus far come out including one from USA) accusations of highly outrageous and perverted instances of sexual harassment, puts the Congress and BJP in sharp contrast.
Akbar’s track Record of Cunning Opportunism
Great genius that M.J. Akbar is, in the late 1980s, he published (or reproduced his news reports) “Riot after Riot“, when the dominant political wisdom of India was displaying some concerns and sympathies for the pathetic condition of the India’s Muslims. The Gopal Singh Committee Report had also come out. So, this book played to the galleries of power. Not long after that, he was elected M.P. from Kishanganj, Bihar, and subsequently, he became advisor to the then Minister of Human Resource Development.
When A.B. Vajpayee came to power with an almost comfortable shift, Akbar published Shades of Swords, on Jihadi Islam, that appealed to the dominant political wisdom of the day, both Hindutva forces, as well as post 9/11 USA.
Again in 2004, when the Congress-led coalition (or non-Hindutva formation) came to power, the masterly prose writer and perceptive thinker in Akbar did not delay the publication of his autobiographical novel, Blood Brothers, depicting the dilemma and pathetic conditions of the Indian Muslims, particularly in the 1960s. It was consistent with the political concerns catalogued in and articulated through the Sachar Committee Report.
In 1991, in a Sunday supplement of the Times of India, M. J. Akbar had written a column, “Is Islam in Danger?” This was the worst possible vilification of Sir Syed.   In Aril 2010, the AMU’s Sir Syed Academy had invited M. J. Akbar to deliver the annual Sir Syed Memorial Lecture. He displayed a complete volte face from what he had written about Sir Syed in 1991.There was applause at many points in his speech. But much of what he said in 2010 would have certainly been branded utterly communal and chauvinistic by none other than the Akbar of 1991.
Today (he has since resigned) , he is in the cabinet of Narendra Modi, a regime which has almost pathological hatred towards Nehru. Let us not forget, Akbar wrote an erudite biography, Nehru, the Making of India, while he enjoyed the privilege of power from the Congress. Another instance of the appalling contradiction or opportunism of Akbar!
 Shamelessly Stubborn BJP
The BJP has shown (until today) the utmost arrogance in retaining tainted ministers in the cabinet. When in the opposition, the party resorted to all sorts of protests: hitting the streets, obstructions inside the Parliament. [Its Sangh Parivar is a kind of organization which even resorts to outrageously wrong and unconstitutional means when the institutions of democracy prohibits it from letting them wish their fulfil. One may recall how they pulled down the Babri Masjid in defiance of their own assurances to the judiciary].

The press was sincere in articulating public ire, hence supporting the opposition in every legitimate way. Today, a bigger section of popular media is busy deflecting all those issues which can embarrass the incumbant regime. Such sections of media are not exposing the outrageous details of unprecedented huge corruption in Rafale deal. All their interrogations continue to be against the opposition, which is perhaps at its weakest in recent decades. The media channels appear busy creating acute polarisation by administering excessive doses of nationalism and religion and by vilifying and incriminating minorities and Dalits.   

This manner in which both the ruling BJP and [this section of] the media are debilitating democracy is dangerous. At any point of time in the future when the BJP sits in the opposition, it will not have any moral authority to ask for the resignations of erring ministers.

Perverted Urban Middle Class
What is most disconcerting is the perversion of the urban middle class of today. They hardly appear to be outraged as much as they greedily look for salacious, lewd details of the ways in which Akbar assaulted the women. The accounts of women suggest he was a serial offender. By that logic, a section of the non-outraged urban middle class, too, should be categorised the same way. Every day they eagerly wait for some more of such details to be revealed by yet another victim. It is this perversion, pervasive in today’s rabidly and pathetically sex-consumerist society, which has even more dangerous implications.

Until this evening (when he resigned), it was possibly, this lack of outrage among sections of the otherwise vocal urban middle class which provides confidence to the BJP to arrogantly remaining dismissive about the issue. Or who knows, there could be another reason: someone higher up in the league may also fall because of this #MeToo Campaign!

It is common knowledge that besides corporate establishments, it is the world of the media and academia where sexual exploitation is said to be rampant. Career-prospects of young aspirants depend upon seniors in these sectors. This vulnerability is abused by many.

 Today, the daunting challenge before society therefore is: how to get rid of the collective moral perversion of this patriarchial -consumerist urban middle class? As far as Akbar’s continuation in the cabinet is concerned, it is exposing the BJP and its timid, silent allies, every moment. The RSS cannot go on claiming its moral high ground conveniently, selectively and opportunistically invoking Bharatiya Sanskriti.
 (The writer is Professor, Centre of Advanced Study in History, Aligarh Muslim University)



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