A BJP worker and a self-styled detective in Malaysia, who is facing a forgery case in Pune, are at the centre of a political row in Maharashtra over their role in the alleged drugs bust on a cruise ship by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which has arrested 16 persons in the case, including Aryan Khan, the son of Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan.
Maharashtra’s ruling coalition partner NCP Wednesday questioned the presence of BJP worker Manish Bhanushali with one of the accused Arbaaz Merchant, and that of K P Gosavi, the so-called detective, with Aryan Khan — and asked why the NCB had let the two perform the role of law enforcement officers.
The NCP’s coalition partner Congress demanded a “high-level inquiry” by the state government into “collusion between NCB and BJP” in the high-profile case.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhanushali acknowledged that he is a BJP worker and claimed that he had tipped off the NCB about “certain passengers” carrying drugs on the ship that led to Saturday’s raid.
Gosavi was not available for comment.
NCB Deputy DG Gyaneshwar Singh described the NCP’s allegations as “baseless” and said the two persons were “among 10 independent witnesses who were used as panchas in the panchnamas” that were carried out by the bureau. In a criminal investigation, a panchnama is used to support evidence of the investigation conducted at the crime scene and seizure of material, if any, from the accused. The panchnama proceedings are recorded before the panch or witness.
In video footage taken the day after the raid, Bhanushali is seen holding Merchant’s hand and leading him into the NCB office. Gosavi is seen taking Aryan Khan into the bureau’s office — he had also posted online a selfie with Aryan.
NCP spokesperson and Maharashtra Minister Nawab Malik said: “The man seen holding Aryan Khan’s hand and taking him inside the NCB office is named K P Gosavi. Subsequently, there was a photo released of him with Khan inside the NCB office. NCB officials later claimed that Gosavi was not a NCB official. If he was not an official, what was he doing inside the NCB office with Khan?”
Malik said: “The second person who can be seen holding hands of Arbaaz Merchant and taking him into the NCB office is Manish Bhanushali. As per his own social media feed, he holds the BJP vice president’s post. There are numerous pictures of him with senior BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as Devendra Fadnavis. The NCB will have to explain why this man was with them during the raid.”
Malik also alleged that Bhanushali was in Delhi and Gujarat on September 21 and 22, when he had met senior BJP leaders. “The NCB is being used by the BJP to defame people. It is being used to conduct raids against people who are against the party, and this entire episode is a scam,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhanushali said he is a resident of Dombivali and claimed to have contested on a BJP ticket for the Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation elections.
“I had received information regarding the drugs party on the cruise ship from a friend through WhatsApp on October 1. That friend had overheard a conversation regarding the party. I went to inform the NCB officials on October 2,” Bhanushali said.
Asked why he was present during the raid, he said: “I had more information than NCB officials and I was being updated constantly by my friend due to which they asked me to accompany them.”
According to Bhanushali, those held on the cruise ship were taken to the NCB office in Ballard Pier. “I was told to come along as I was a witness and they needed my signatures on certain documents. I went and sat in the vehicle in which the accused were also seated,” he said.
Asked why he led Merchant into the NCB office, Bhanushali said: “When we were being taken to the NCB office, the footpath was narrow and I instinctively caught the hand of the person next to me while entering.”
Although Bhanushali’s Facebook profile describes him as a “vice president” of the BJP, he said he was “just a humble worker of the party”. By Wednesday night, he had locked his Facebook profile. Bhanushali said he didn’t know Gosavi and that the pictures of them, circulated by NCP, were taken inside the NCB office.
Gosavi’s Facebook profile describes him as a detective staying in Kuala Lumpur. He is also said to be the owner of a job placement firm, KPG Dreamz Solutions. In 2018, he was booked by Pune Police for allegedly defrauding a man of Rs 3.09 lakh after promising to help him get a job in Malaysia. Gosavi’s Facebook profile was found deleted Wednesday night; Malik claimed the profile included a picture of Gosavi with a senior NCB official.
NCB officials said they “did not know of any of these persons personally before the incident”. Maharashtra BJP chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye said: “The question here is whether he (Malik) wants to support the fight against drugs or oppose it. We need to support the NCB’s fight against drugs. I want to ask the NCP whether they just want to support Aryan Khan or is there any other motive? If NCB feels that they must prosecute these two people named by Malik, they can.’’
NCB’s Singh, along with Mumbai Zonal Unit Director Sameer Wankhede who led the raid, said the NCP’s allegations were “made with malice” and “prejudiced” in connection with an earlier operation. He was referring to a narcotics case registered against Malik’s son-in-law who was behind bars for nearly six months.
“If they (NCP) want to go to court, they can go and seek justice. We will reply there. We have done everything as per law,” Singh said.
Malik had also claimed that the procedure for seizure of drugs as prescribed in the NDPS Act was not followed by the NCB, and that pictures of seizures from the raid “were concocted to frame the accused”.
Another NCB official said material was seized from two rooms and the reception, and that CCTV footage would “clarify all doubts”. On one of the witnesses being a BJP worker, and another having a police record, the official said: “We cannot stop an operation and check if the independent witness has a past record or if he is affiliated to any party.”