BJP’s dilemma over #MeToo and MJ Akbar

Amulya Ganguli

Since offence is the best form of defence, it is not surprising that Union minister of state for external affairs, M J Akbar, lost no time on his return to India from a foreign tour to launch defamation proceedings against one of those who had accused him of sexual misconduct when he was an editor.
The Union minister’s response is likely to become the standard riposte of some of the others who have faced similar charges from the followers of the #MeToo movement by women directed against lascivious men.
This is just as well, for the courts are the only place where an answer to the charges and counter-charges can emerge. Otherwise, it was becoming a case of “she said” versus “he denied” exchanges which resembled unverified gossip.
However, it has to be remembered that much of these accusations are unverifiable because the supposed offences mostly took place behind closed doors where there were no witnesses or hidden cameras.
But, even as the judiciary examines how these intimate personal matters can be proven or unproven, it is the political fallout of the court proceedings which can have wider impact than what concerns the individuals engaged in a legal battle.
For the BJP, it cannot but be a matter of concern that a Union minister is facing charges of a criminal nature in a court of law.
Considering that the customary responses of the party’s spokespersons on television were in favour of legal remedies, the BJP cannot be unaware that legalese is not all.
There is also a moral dimension which it can ignore only at its peril at a time of several crucial elections. Nor can the #MeToo movement be dismissed as an urban fad as some of the party’s supporters in the media have tried to do.
That taking a definitive stand is not easy for those involved in public life is evident from the somewhat confused response of the RSS to what is happening in the social media.
While one of the RSS stalwarts, Dattatreya Hosabale, agreed with the Facebook post of a woman who said that one didn’t have to be a woman to support the #MeToo movement, but just have a “sensibility of what is right and what is wrong”, another leader, Indresh Kumar, wanted to know why the victimised women remained silent for as long as 15 years although he did say that the matter needed to be looked into.
If the BJP leaders, on the other hand, have generally been silent with some of them almost running away, as a newspaper noted, when asked about the charges against the Union minister, the reason perhaps was that the party was at a loss as to how to deal with misdemeanours of this nature at the ministerial level.
Besides, there was another factor at work. It was that the BJP does not like to be seen as being pushed around. Whether it is the demand for a joint parliamentary probe into the Rafael deal or a call for the accused minister’s resignation, the instincts of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo are to brazen it out, especially if the demand is being made by the Congress.
This adamancy may not be all that damaging for the party where the issue is mainly political. But sexual peccadilloes are another matter. The transgressions become even more unacceptable where women are involved.
Given that beti bachao, beti padhao (save and educate the daughter) is one of the BJP’s and the Modi government’s slogans, the saffron camp simply cannot afford to be indifferent towards the complaints of harassment by women even if they have made them a decade or so later.
The delay can be explained by the fact that not only were they more vulnerable earlier when they were young and inexperienced, but also because the times were more conservative and there were no social media like the Facebook or Twitter where they could express their anguish.
The BJP has generally been at odds with the growing modern trends relating to lifestyles such as the concept of live-in partners or non-vegetarian food, including the consumption of beef.
The Modi government’s description of privacy as an “elitist” concept before the Supreme Court and its decision to recuse itself from the hearings on the case of gay rights, leaving it to the judges to take a decision on their own, showed how ill at ease the BJP is when it comes to 21st century ideas.
#MeToo being very much a phenomenon of the present times, the BJP’s discomfort is understandable. As in the case of homosexual relations, it wants the judiciary to take a decision while it maintains a deafening silence.
In the process, however, it runs the risk of alienating women, especially the younger generation who are no longer willing to succumb uncomplainingly to lecherous men, and also the middle class which had been won over by the BJP with the promise of achhey din.  (IPA)

Monday, 29 October, 2018