Despite allegations of sexual harassment, former OML CEO Vijay Nair finds work with AAP

31 October 2019
Aditya Kapoor

Vijay Nair, the former CEO of Only Much Louder—an entertainment and event-management company based in Mumbai—has been working with the Aam Aadmi Party, as it gears up for the forthcoming assembly elections in Delhi. Nair is working as a part-time volunteer of the party and does “ad-hoc work” in social media and organising party events, according to Atishi, a senior AAP leader and spokesperson of the party. Atishi is also the head of the AAP’s internal complaints committee, a statutory body mandated to inquire into any formal complaints of sexual harassment at a workplace. In November last year, The Caravan had published an investigative report on allegations of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct against Nair.

Nair stands accused of abetting an environment that perpetuated sexual harassment, sexism and misogyny during his time as the CEO of OML. Based on first-person accounts of women who had worked with him, The Caravan reported that Nair’s position as CEO “allowed him to act brazenly and with impunity.” The article noted, “He asked a woman to get into a bathtub with him and told another at 2 am that he needed a massage. He even sent explicit images—including one in which a man appeared to be ejaculating—to a woman, without her consent.” One woman told The Caravan that Nair engaged in a sexual act during a work call with her without seeking her consent. Several young women who had worked with Nair said that he messaged them regularly and that they were unsure whether they could refuse his advances. In response to the article, Nair and OML had denied any wrongdoing.

I met Nair during a visit to the AAP head office, in mid October. He asked me to direct any queries I had to Atishi. When I spoke with Atishi over the phone, she confirmed that Nair was working with AAP, but denied any knowledge of the allegations against him. After our conversation, I emailed her a link to the investigative report, along with several follow-up queries, seeking her response and inquiring about the party’s stance on the matter. At the time of publishing, she had not responded to my follow-up queries.

It is unclear how long Nair has been working with the AAP or in what capacity. According to Ankit Lal, a national-council member of the AAP who heads its digital campaign, Nair is an old-time associate of the party and has been a volunteer with the AAP for five or six years. He added that Nair is “connected across the industry” and if Lal needed any help on digital strategy, “he is one of the first people I would call.” During our phone conversation, Atishi referred to an “ad-hoc” role but avoided providing any specific details. She mentioned that he works on “social media” and “events.”

Yet, it appears possible that Nair has been engaged with more responsibility than either Atishi or Lal let on. A woman who was approached to work on digital-communication strategy for the election was told that she would have to meet Nair as he was managing communications for the party. “The role that I would have had would have meant that I reported to him,” she said. She said that “a plan was proposed that I come on board with six people.” When she learnt that Nair would head the team, she declined the opportunity. “There was this discomfort because of the allegations,” she said. “My teammates also declined, of their own volition.”

Atishi, who heads the ICC at AAP, claimed that it is the only party to have such a body. Discussing the ICC’s functioning, Atishi said that the committee looks into sexual-harassment cases when they are brought to its attention. It is not clear what mechanism, if any, the party has put in place to deal with sexual-harassment complaints against part-time volunteers or people who are working on projects on an ad-hoc basis. When I asked Atishi about this, she deflected my query. “Power dynamics often play an important role in cases of sexual harassment,” Atishi said, and noted that Nair would not be in a position of power. In my follow-up queries sent over email, I pointed out that Nair is a well-known and influential member of the Indian events and entertainment industry, who wields significant power. I also included a query regarding the information conveyed to the woman who refused a role with the AAP. Atishi did not respond to these questions.

Nair’s amicable relationship with the AAP is a matter of public record. On 14 January 2014, the Times of India reported that Nair had joined the AAP in the previous week. The same month, the AAP had announced its plan to launch a three-month campaign with music concerts and road shows to takes its political message across the country. Nair would play an important role in the campaign, the report noted. “Nair said he will reach out to musicians across the country and use music as a medium to spread the party’s work and message,” the report said. It quoted Nair: “I’d rather have 50 small shows in many parts of Maharashtra than one big event in Mumbai.”

In a December 2015 interview with The Quint, Nair praised the AAP government for bringing in a single-window licensing system for conducting music festivals. The interview took place shortly after the sixth edition of NH7 Weekender—OML’s annual music festival that is held across different cities—in Delhi, and Nair lauded the AAP government’s corruption-free organisation of the event. The Quint also reported that “Nair is known to have close ties with the senior leadership of the AAP,” but he denied that his praise for the Delhi government was due to his personal relationship with the party members. “I know people in the Aam Aadmi Party and I make no bones about the fact that we shamelessly use the support of the people in power to get work done because that is the only way,” Nair said. “I have made donations to AAP, but that was before the Lok Sabha elections and I have a receipt for it.”

Atishi and Lal were both evasive and non-committal on the question of what steps the party would take with respect to the existing allegations against Nair. “Just a complaint is not enough, we have to carefully examine it based on the principle of natural justice,” Atishi told me, before adding, “This will be looked into.” She did not respond to my follow-up queries on the subject. Lal deflected the question with a response that appeared to indicate that Nair would not face any consequences because he had not been formally found culpable. “We don’t associate with anyone who has been proven of charges,” he said. “That is the stand of the party and I have maintained that with my team.”

I emailed Nair to enquire about his association with the party and the nature of the work he does for it. He did not respond.

Nileena MS is a staff writer at The Caravan. She can be reached at nileenams@protonmail.com.