Cross-examined by journalist Priya Ramani’s counsel before a Delhi court Monday, former Union Minister M J Akbar denied meeting her at the Oberoi Hotel or harassing an intern under him at the Asian Age in 2006-07.
Akbar, who filed a defamation complaint against Ramani following allegations of sexual misconduct, appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Samar Vishal for the second time for his cross-examination. “Since there was no meeting, therefore it is wrong to suggest that I did not ask Ms Priya Ramani about her writing skills, her knowledge of current affairs or her ability to enter the world of journalism,” he said.
The former minister’s counsel also termed as “not relevant” the reference that in 2017, numerous women including actresses, models and others belonging to the entertainment industry in America made public allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer and co-founder of the Weinstein Company, Harvey Weinstein.
Ramani’s counsel, senior advocate Rebecca M John, told Akbar that in an article in Vogue Magazine, titled ‘To the Harvey Weinsteins of the world’, only one part of the article refers to him and not the entire article. Ramani had written the article but had not named Akbar.
To this, Akbar responded that it was “incorrect to suggest” only sections in the Vogue article referred to him. “The entire article refers to me. I was stated a fact that in the first published version, my name was not there and later in the tweet, she confirmed that the whole piece was about me.”
Akbar also said that he did not receive any phone call from Ramani from the hotel reception that day.
“I have not received any phone call from the reception by Ms Priya Ramani on that day. It is wrong to suggest that I received the phone call from the reception. It is incorrect to suggest that I called Ms Priya Ramani to come to my room. It is wrong to suggest that she was hesitant or that I insisted,” he said.
Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, representing Akbar, objected to suggestions and questions regarding a hotel room meeting and talks between the two, and said that the same was “not relevant as (Akbar) already denied the meeting in the hotel”.
On being told by John that Akbar “began to sing old Hindi songs” and had offered Ramani “an alcoholic drink from mini-bar in the room”, he voluntarily recorded that “the occasion did not arise”.
He also said, “I am not sure whether Ms Priya Ramani was offered a job in Asian Age newspaper in January 1994 in Delhi office”, and added that “it is a 25-year-old matter and to the best of my knowledge, she was working in the Bombay office”.
Asked whether he is aware that Ramani has been a journalist for the last 20 years, Akbar replied, “I am not aware of her career details.”
He was also questioned about tweets on the allegations against him by other journalists including Ghazala Wahab, Shunali Khullar Shroff, Kadambari M Wade, Majlie de Puy Kamp and Harinder Baweja.
“I am aware that Ms Ghazala Wahab had written an article… It is correct that when I returned from Africa in October 2018, I made a statement to the press and refuted the allegations made by Ms Ghazala. I am not aware whether Ms Ghazala Wahab wrote another article… after my statement,” he said.
Regarding reference to the allegations by Majlie de Puy Kamp (an intern) and exchange of an email in this regard, he said: “I cannot confirm the content of the email mentioned… I can truly assert that there was absolutely no question of any harassment of the lady. I recall there might have been mention of some misunderstanding, which was accepted.”
“I have not read the tweet of Ghazala Wahab and tweet of Shunali Khullar Shroff,” he said.
On Baweja, Akbar submitted: “I have read the article before my evidence on October 31, 2018. It is correct that this article carries the tweet of Harinder Baweja… I have read the tweet of Harinder Baweja. I am aware that Ms Harinder Baweja is a senior journalist with Hindustan Times.”
With regard to tweets of Ms Kadambari, Akbar said, “I have not read the seven tweets of Ms Kadambari M Wade.. earlier except the tweets referred in… (court exhibits)”
Following the allegations against him, Akbar had resigned last year from his position in the Modi government.
The cross-examination will continue on July 6. The process for cross-examination was initiated after Ramani pleaded not guilty and claimed trial in the matter.
Although several women levelled allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against Akbar, he filed a defamation complaint only against Ramani.