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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Copy Edited by Adam Rizvi, New York, TIO: Remember the media storm that blew this time last year? When actress Rhea Chakraborty became a victim of a media vicious witch hunt, after being portrayed as the greedy, manipulative, evil girlfriend who was somehow linked to the “murder” of actor Sushant Singh Rajput? A year later, neither the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) nor the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have anything conclusive on Rhea or Bollywood, painted as a drug-infested den.
Despite the “murder” case being taken over by the Bihar police because the Mumbai police could not be “trusted” and then taken over by the CBI, there is still no conclusive report from them This is when the Narcotic Bureau had jumped in with the drug angle, to, keep the controversy brewing.
Desperate attempts were made to trap Rhea, based on a few WhatsApp chats, where procuring just a few grams of marijuana for her depressed boyfriend Sushant, became the breeding ground for a wild theory. She was portrayed as being part of an international drug cartel, supplying drugs to Bollywood.
The media latched on to the story, to generate sympathy for Sushant Singh, a Bihari. For the BJP, with no issues to grab eyeballs during the Bihar assembly polls last year, the story of a small-town boy making it big in the big bad world of Bollywood, only to fall prey to his evil girlfriend, was just too juicy to let go. The witch hunt resulted in devastating consequences for the simple middle-class family of Lt Col Indrajit Chakraborty (Retd), who watched helplessly while his daughter and his college-going son were being torn apart.
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The national media has been a willing partner in crime for the government, since May 2014. The zonal director of NCB Sameer Wankhade’s fascination with Bollywood too is well known
Bad timing for Sushant to choose his death, just before the hate fest in Bihar, leaving behind a grieving Rhea to face the storm. Her brother who procured the marijuana for Sushant with whom he shared a close bond, was all that was needed to start the witch hunt against them.
For a case to be made under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act of 1985, drugs need to be present. Since Rhea did not use the drugs, the process of her being painted as a drug dealer began. The issue now related to trafficking and not consumption and recovery of drugs was no longer central to the case
Based on her “confessional” statement, she was charged under section 67 of the NDPS Act for being part of a drug cartel. For a month she was denied bail because NCB kept demanding that they still need to interrogate her. Finally a month after a horrendous media trial, where she and her family’s dignity and peace of mind was completely stripped off, she got her bail. The Bombay High Court while granting her bail on October 7 last year, found that there was no evidence to suggest that she financed a drug trade which was key to the stringent charge of section 27 A of the NDPS Act, against her. The court observed that procuring drugs for Sushant was not the same as harboring and financing drugs.
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After her release, all talks about her drug connection and Sushant’s “murder’ died down. So much so that even when a 12,000-page charge sheet was filed by the NCB, it received a very lukewarm response. Though Rhea and her lawyer Satish Maneshinde had plans to take the media to the court, the entire experience of creating an absolutely fake case out of nothing had probably taken such a toll on the family that they decided to let matters lie low.
One would think that despite the elaborate tale of death, betrayal, and drugs falling flat on its face, things would change. It is not just the media and the Narendra Modi government which was targeting the Maharashtra state government and Bollywood through this case, losing credibility in the process, but also a premier investigating agency like NCB and CBI lost its shine.
After unsuccessfully branding Bollywood, trying to scour for drugs there, getting the pretty, successful ladies of Bollywood, including Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali, and Shraddha Kapoor to answer inane charges and meaningless questioning, one would think that they have all learned their lesson, not to create a fake narrative out of thin air.
But it looks like Sameer Wakhade, who shot to notoriety with the Rhea case, was missing the attention and the high that comes from dominating the headlines. The government needed an issue to quickly take the focus off the seizure made by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), a total of 2,988.21 kg Afghan heroin from two containers at the Mundra port around September 15. The port is run by Adani Ports and SEZ (APSEZ), the ports business under the Gautam Adani-run conglomerate.
The consignment was estimated to be worth ₹ 21,000 crores, or 3 billion dollars internationally. This is stated to be the single largest seizure of heroin in India till now and one of the 10 biggest across the globe. Shockingly, just a few days before this seizure, the intelligence agencies missed a consignment of 25,000 kgs which was cleared through the same port. This, if caught, would have been the largest seizure in the world!
One would imagine that seizures this size would grab headlines for months. But not in India anymore. All questions and debates were shot down by just one short press release by the Adani group that they have no control over what lands in their ports and they do not have the authority to search and seize.
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No ripples surfaced in Indian media either. No questions on who in India has the funds to deal with such large consignments of pure heroin from Afghanistan? How many more consignments have already been cleared? Is this a humongous quantity of drugs for local or international consumption? What happened to the owners of Aashi Enterprises who received the consignment? Were they aware that they were receiving drugs hidden under slabs of talcum powder?
Narcotics Bureau is India’s premier law enforcement and intelligence agency, for not only drug control in India but also to fulfill India’s international obligations with regard to drug trafficking, and assisting international and foreign drug law enforcement agencies. However, this bureau along with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Enforcement Directorate (ED), National Investigative Agency (NIA), and others, have all become caricatures of their former selves under the present regime. All these agencies are now only let loose over whoever this government feels threatened with.
And so while whispers about the seizure at the Adani port had been “managed”, there was an unease about it, which had to be silenced.
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In comes, Manish Bhanushali, just a local businessman from Dombivli, Mumbai, and still has access to all the top leaders from BJP. Yet he along with Kiran Gosavi, who claims he is a private detective in Kuala Lumpur, on his social media profile, are seen handling Arbaaz Merchant and Aryan Khan respectively. The two together seemed to have hatched the plot to “fix” Aryan Khan.
Manish Bhanushali turns out to be an office-bearer of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), with several pictures of him surfacing with even the prime minister Narendra Modi, Home minister Amit Shah and former chief minister of Maharashtra Devendra Phadanvis.
When questioned by the media, Bhanushali claimed to be a whistleblower, and insisted that he was invited by the NCB to be present at the raid, since “he had all the information”.
When asked why he was handling the high-profile accused he insisted that since it was a small space, he was close to the accused, but not really handling them. However, videos of him exiting the ship with his hand on Merchant‘s shoulders to lead him out and then their videos, handling the accused even at the NCB head office, was in complete violation of the procedures of the NCB.
On the very first day of Aryan Khan’s arrest on October 3, his selfie with Gosavi went viral. When NCB drew flak for it, it denied that he was in the NCB. But there was no further clarification from NCB about who he was and what he was doing in the NCB office with the accused and no other officer present.
Gosavi was charged with a cheating case in Pune in 2018. He ran a company named KPG Dreamz Solutions which promised jobs abroad to aspirants from various fields.
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The company used social media platforms for the promotion. The case was registered after one such aspirant accused Gosavi of duping him of Rs 3.09 lakh on the pretext of a job at a hotel in Malaysia. Upon his arrival in Malaysia, the aspirant found out that he had been cheated by Kiran Gosavi.
The presence and identity of these crooks in NCB were revealed and challenged on October 6, by senior National Congress Party (NCP) leader Nawab Malik, who declared the case as ‘fake’, with no drugs found in Aryan’s possession. He has also expressed doubts that this could well be an elaborate extortion racket.
Malik also claimed that the standard operating procedure during a seizure was not followed. No drugs were found on the cruise ship and therefore no panchnama was done on the spot on the cruise ship or the terminal. Instead, some drugs were laid out on a chair in the office of the NCB, and photographs were taken and circulated among the media.
When NCB was confronted with this fact, Wankhade denied it saying all standard procedures were followed.
The total value of the drugs seized from the cruise ship was estimated at Rs 1,33000 for a total of 20 gms of drugs which of course was described as a “huge haul with international links”.
Sameer Wankhade, who has a special penchant for targeting celebrities drew much flak for his handling of the Rhea Chakraborty case but seems to have learned nothing from that episode.
Meanwhile, the NCB has been functioning without a head for almost two years, which shows a complete lack of interest in its functioning by the present government. Controversial cop and a Modi favourite, Rakesh Asthana held dual charge of CBI and NCB till a few months back, when he became the Delhi police commissioner. The additional charge of NCB has now gone to Satya Narayan Pradhan, who is also the Director-General (DG) of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
Read more from this fearless journalist, Bureau Chief, Vijaylakshmi Nadar: Crushing Democracy Under The Wheels of Arrogance and Conceit
Curated and Compiled By Humra Kidwai
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