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Even by the standard already established by Central investigative agencies of dubious action against political rivals and dissenters, the ‘raid’ last week on a cruise ship by the Narcotics Control Board, to catch drug consumers in the act, is a murky affair.
NCB officers involved in the raid proudly announced their haul — eight young men and women, and 13 grams of cocaine, five grams of mephedrone, 21 grams of charas and 22 pills of MDMA (Ecstasy). The news made national headlines because the detainees included Aryan Khan, son of superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
Almost immediately, a selfie emerged showing a smirking man with Khan Jr in the background, clearly taken on the night of the arrest. The NCB said emphatically that the man was not their officer. Kiran Gosavi was a private detective present at the raid. Another video showed him escorting an accused — clearly, he was not an ‘independent witness’. They are taken on all raids, the NCB claimed.
Gosavi also turned out to be an accused in a cheating case in Palghar, just outside Mumbai, and also wanted by the Pune police. The other ‘witness’ was Manish Bhanushali, a BJP worker, who said he had been an ‘informant’. Then came the allegation that young Aryan had been invited to the party by someone related to another BJP leader.
This had all the hallmarks of a setup, a sting operation to trap Aryan Khan and create a public spectacle, especially since the NCB has admitted that no drugs were found on him. Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik has held several press conferences giving out details of what was wrong with the raid, including how the relative of a BJP leader present on the ship was let off before the detentions.
The obvious question that arises is — why Aryan Khan? Was it to target his father? Or, as Mehbooba Mufti has said, perhaps expressing what many others think — because his surname is Khan.
The action and the high public profile that the case has assumed comes at a time when elections are due in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP is going full throttle against Muslims, and raising divisive issues. Yogi Adityanath has never made a secret of his antipathy towards Muslims, and this might just come in useful to appeal to his core Hindutva followers.
It brings up memories of how the death of Sushant Singh Rajput was played up during the Bihar elections, since his family was from there, and the actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty was arrested for using drugs and supplying them to him. For weeks, the media went berserk, but nothing incriminating was found on her. The BJP performed poorly in the elections and Rajput and Chakraborty vanished from TV screens.
Shah Rukh Khan’s utility in a communally-charged and polarising election is self-evident. He is a Muslim married to a Hindu — a ‘Love Jihadi’ in the eyes of Hindutva activists! He is fully secular, on and off the screen, but doesn’t shy away from projecting his Muslim identity in small ways — his adaabs, for example. But most of all, it was Yogi Adityanath who had once compared the actor to Hafiz Saeed, the terrorist mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks. Yogi further said the actor was “tarnishing India’s image”.
The Hindi film industry has always been a space where people of different backgrounds work — Muslims have been an integral part of Bollywood as writers, lyricists, directors, technicians and stars. The Khans have dominated the screen for over 25 years, and have found love and acceptance from the film-going public. Khan’s persona as the quintessential lover has won him fans all over the world, beyond the traditional NRI market. To accuse him – a valuable cultural ambassador – of tarnishing the country’s image shows Yogi’s bankruptcy of thought and communal-mindedness.
The NCB still has to prove its case. So far, the courts have been extending custody a few days at a time. But the NCB will have to clarify what politicians and a wanted man were doing at the raid. It won’t be easy.