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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Hold the nose

NCB weaponises law, TV channels play accomplice — all in the cause of justice

By: Editorial | September 25, 2020 4:00:46 am
The odds have been stacked against the Indian woman scientist for a long while now.

Actor Deepika Padukone has been summoned by the Narcotics Control Bureau in a case against Rhea Chakraborty and five others, based on purported WhatsApp chats that the Enforcement Directorate, investigating Chakraborty for illegal diversion of funds, passed on to the NCB. There are no seizures that could count as corroborative evidence in this case, no arrests so far — and the ED’s exertions have also amounted to nothing. In a second case, the NCB has arrested 19 people, including Chakraborty, who was not named in it initially, and claims to have made seizures of commercial quantities of narcotics from one of the arrested accused. In this second case, the NCB says it is targeting a “drug citadel in Mumbai, especially Bollywood”. It is not yet clear what either of the two cases — the one in which Padukone has been summoned but in which there are no arrests so far, and the one in which Chakraborty has been arrested even though she was not named initially — have to do with the death of Sushant Singh Rajput, which kickstarted the multiple investigations. The probe into the death of a young actor in Mumbai is taking turns, mostly on prime time TV, that appear to defy reason and the rule of law — it is looking more and more like a fishing expedition that has left Rajput far behind.

How did an investigation of an apparent suicide by a star morph into a hunt for all drug users in Bollywood, after taking a brief detour into a cloddish probe into nepotism in the Hindi film industry? A law, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, is being weaponised and a premier federal agency tasked with fighting drug trafficking by mafias at all-India level appears to have become a leaky instrument out to smear individual reputations by innuendo, helpfully amplified by gutless TV channels willing to play accomplice. In this sordid mess, neither the fact that the NCB is led by Rakesh Asthana, nor that one of those summoned by the NCB on an apparently flimsy pretext is Deepika Padukone seems incidental. Asthana is the Gujarat-cadre officer who was the No 2 in the open and unseemly tug of war with the No 1 in the CBI vs CBI drama in late 2018 — which cast such unflattering light on the inner dysfunction of the country’s premier investigative agency and invited accusations, yet again, of string-pulling by the political powers that be. And Padukone broke Big Bollywood’s code of silence on all things political when she visited JNU to express solidarity with students who were attacked by an armed mob while Delhi Police watched earlier this year.

The highest court of the land had stepped into the Sushant Singh Rajput case, when it handed it over to the CBI, which has maintained a sober posture so far, in contrast to the headline-hunting NCB. As the case loses its way, and ahead of an assembly election in which its incredible twists and turns may well be manipulated for political gain, it is the court that must intervene again. It must do so to restore the primacy of law, and the possibility of justice.

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