Aryan Khan is back home after more than three weeks in Arthur Jail well in time for Diwali and dad Shahrukh’s birthday. We all know that there was no drug found on his body or blood, that 6 grams found with his friend for which he was blamed to have ‘conscious possession’, and that some years old WhatsApp chats on his phone (seized without a seizure letter) show that he discussed drugs with some friends and possibly some peddlers. But obviously these could not be proven before Mumbai High Court, and hence the bail.
Now the bigger questions.
First, let us start with the immediate issue, moving to the bigger ones of drug menace later. The entire case has exposed the Narcotics Control Bureau’s rot, with its several political and criminal ‘witnesses’, blank ‘panchnamas’ on which at least two panchs have spilled the beans, allegations of extortions and bribes by the very witnesses of NCB, deliberate leaks of unrelated two years old WhatsApp chats, desperate attempts to fabricate a ‘controversy’ where none apparently exists, conjectures of an international cartel without evidences etc. Obviously these expose the agency and there is a strong case for a thorough counter investigation of the ways and means with which NCB works.
Second, specifically within the NCB, the Mumbai division chief Sameer Wankhede seems to have a further chequered track record with his own panchs and witnesses claiming extortion plans and blank ‘panchnamas’, his two marriages showing one in true Islamic way and the other Hindu way, with his name showing both Muslim and Hindu origins and yet he had availed Scheduled Caste reservation to get into IRS, et al. This is another major cause of concern in this case and calls for deep probe, on which both NCB and Mumbai Police have started their process.
Third, there is a lingering feeling (also emboldened by some of the revelations of Maharashtra Minister Nawab Malik) that Rhea Chakraborty onwards the Bollywood has been targeted for extortion and there could be cases of ‘planting’ drugs in some homes of celebrities, or some small amounts found in some homes for personal consumption, leading to questioning, bribing and letting off. Several such cases of the same patter has been seen over the last one year, including some biggies like Rakulpreet, Arman Kohli, Deepika Padukone et al. An NCB witness also speaks about extortion discussions in Aryan case.
Fourth, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta says, the powers that be in India have been wanting to shift base of Indian cinema from Mumbai to Noida-UP, and have been in discomfort with the overtly secular credentials of the Mumbai based Bollywood, where several key Muslim celebrities are well entrenched, and the industry having a disproportionate impact on popular culture of India and India’s soft power globally. While Salman Khan has managed a working relationship with Modi regime, Amitabh Bachhan has virtually submitted thanks to Gujarat Tourism campaign and his name coming in Panama and Paradise papers, Aamir Khan has talked of an environment of intolerance rising in India, and Shahrukh has maintained a studied silence, has represented TMC ruled Bengal as its brand ambassador, and has not sucked up to the regime like Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar and most famously Kangana Ranaut. Then Swara Bhaskar, Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, Atul Kulkarni, Richa Chaddha, Anurag Kashyap, TaapseePannu et al have been critics of the government or the Right Wing inflicted violence from time to time. By distressing the biggest icon in the industry, the State and the political force behind it did attempt to send a message to all and sundry to fall in line, bend and even sing paeans in their glory.
Fifth, while some 6 grams of contraband drugs lead to such a month-long NCB action and media trial, what is intriguing is that 3000 kgs of drugs hauled up at the Adani Port at Mundhra, of a price of Rs.21,000 crores, is beyond the media glare and no news is known of it after first three small time operators being arrested and the port management deciding that they would be selective in allowing usage of their port facilities going ahead. There have been several other cases where even political persons close to the rulers have been caught with much larger quantities of drugs, but no major action, most bailed and media silent. Manipur BJP leader was held with drugs worth Rs.27 crore who could finally manage to get a clean chit from the court due to poor case presentation, leading to the lady officer originally arresting him, resigning from her job. BJP youth leader Rakesh Singh of Bengal fled to Bihar after his accomplice in cocaine case, another youth leader Pamela Goswami was arrested. Chhatra Police of Jharkhand had arrested a BJP youth leader with brown sugar packet worth crores. Many more such are cases around the nation. It is now being alleged on oath by the Maharashtra minister Malik that there is an international drug racket to which Sameer Wankhede is connected to and that he has a peddlers’ gang protected by him and used for fake panchnamas. Time will unveil the truth fully.
Sixth, the NDPS Act of 1985 that bans the use and trade of contraband narcotic substances also talks about focusing on breaking the chain of import and trade of drugs commercially. It is more sympathetic towards consumers of drugs in small quantities and considers them more as victims to be sent to deaddiction centres. However, the usual tone and tenor of NCB in the last two years or more has been focused more on earning brownie points in public glare through media by going after celebrities and selectively leaking their WhatsApp chats and creating a protracted media trial and drama. To a layman it is obvious that the focus is on the consumer and not the traders and importers. The battle is misplaced in its priorities, socially and legally. While celebrity or ordinary consumers can lead to the peddlers and thereby the large traders and importers of drugs, the chain is hardly seen over the last two years in this so-called #WarAgainstDrugs.
Seventh, the NDPS Act itself needs a complete overhaul. Homegrown charas or bhang and imported brown sugar, marijuana-based narcotics cannot be equated. Many Hindu festivals (specially Holi and Shivratri) serve some form of homegrown intoxicating herbs with milk or food, and certain sects of hermits are known to be consuming these. World-over there is a rethinking on use of marijuana and limited consumption of it is allowed and known to be entertainment drugs. Most European nations have looked at less harmful narcotics condescendingly. Indian law has to also look at this issue differently. State policies and approaches on such issues do change over time. This is not to condone import of large-scale hard drugs as seen in Adani port and their trading as seen with the Manipur leader.
The #WarAgainstDrugs has been skewed from the past and the NCB and governments at the centre and states need to go a long way to make it a truly war for people’s welfare, and not a game of convenience either to serve political ends or, even worse, make it a conduit for extortions.
The author is the Secretary of Global Media Education Council, and till recently the Pro Vice Chancellor of Kolkata based Adamas University.