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Rhea Chakraborty and India's drug of choice

By SUMIT BHATTACHARYA
September 09, 2020 15:54 IST
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The hounding of Rhea Chakraborty in the Sushant Singh Rajput case is a drug that is being carefully pumped into India's veins to make it comfortably numb as it is wracked by economic ruin and disease, notes Sumit Bhattacharya

IMAGE: Bollywood actor Rhea Chakraborty arrives at the Narcotics Control Bureau in Mumbai, September 8, 2020, after she was arrested. Photograph: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters
 

Rhea Chakraborty may have been arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau, but it is India that is overdosing on a deadly drug cocktail -- of debased voyeurism designed to make it delirious and forget its real problems of economic ruin and raging pandemic.

This is not Justice for Sushant Singh. What is playing out right now is straight out of an episode of the dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror.

The hounding of Rhea Chakraborty is a travesty of national institutions like the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate, the NCB, and the so-called fourth pillar of democracy -- journalism.

The hounding of Rhea Chakraborty is the public pelting of stones at someone perceived guilty, the shuddh desi millennial version of witch hunts.

There are various theories about why women were burned as witches in (especially) medieval Europe. Echoes of most of the reasons attributed to European witch hunts -- climate change and disease wreaking havoc, a means to lure followers in the polarisation between the Catholic and Protestant churches -- can also be found in today's India.

Like Europe then, India today is a country wracked by poverty, disease, and polarisation.

What is Rhea Chakraborty accused of? Murder? No! Stealing Rs 15 crore? No! She is accused of procuring ganja for her evidently troubled boyfriend. By that standard, a sizeable portion of urban India would be behind bars.

This is not what the NCB is for.

They haven't even found evidence of her consuming ganja -- which would have been legal in India, but for Ronald Reagan's 'war on drugs' in the 1980s, and which countries across the world are legalising now.

An entire state's police force could not find evidence enough to arrest Rhea Chakraborty. Neither could the country's premier investigating agency that has become a political joke.

So it fell upon the NCB to arrest her under a law, the NDPS Act, that is among the most draconian pieces of legislation in India.

Because the drug must be pumped in at regular intervals for the delirium to last.

If we believe that a high-performing actor can be 'controlled' through drugs -- the desi ganja to top it off -- it means the drug has taken complete hold and we are hallucinating our own version of reality.

Only a drugged nation will believe the eternal Indian-family saga soap plot -- our son was like Yudhisthir, this evil woman fed him drugs and killed him.

Only a drugged nation will cheer a woman being hounded by vultures with television cameras -- no, sorry, vultures don't molest the living -- as the New York-based Kashmiri artist Mir Suhail's sketch so eloquently captured.

Only a drugged nation will see patriotism and nationalism in this sordid saga of a troubled young man's death that has brought two families to confrontation.

This is a laboratory-made synthetic drug.

This is hashtag heroin.

This is prime-time methamphetamine.

In our stupor, we are failing to see who is profiting from this whole episode. Who is mass-producing this drug and pumping it into our veins.

News organisations, starved of ad revenue and bereft of budgets for reportage in an economy where demand is shrinking drastically, that have found the easiest way to eyeballs and/or curry more favour with political parties.

IMAGE: During happier times, Rhea Chakraborty with boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput. Photograph: Rhea Chakraborty/Twitter

That other breed that was till not-so-long ago the unanimously agreed upon villain of the country and is now like family and national honour, insulting which is sedition -- the politician.

And all and sundry celeb types who are washing their hands in this flowing Ganga of publicity (to very badly translate a Hindi idiom).

The Sushant Singh Rajput death case is now a political and business gold mine. There's lots of money to be made with minute by minute updates.

Rhea Chakraborty arrives at NCB office.

Rhea Chakraborty grilled by NCB for eight hours.

RHEA CHAKRABORTY ARRESTED BY NCB.

RHEA CHAKRABORTY CRIED IN PRISON.

Every update numbs you to the reality.

That India is the COVID-19 capital of the world.

That millions and millions of people have lost their jobs, had their salaries cut, their savings eaten up. That millions are perishing from floods.

That thousands are being driven to suicide due to joblessness. Nearly 14,000 people who committed suicide in 2019, when the novel coronavirus was just a freeloader on a bat's wings, were unemployed -- according to National Crime Records Bureau data.

That you will not be able to visit Pangong Tso and pose like Aamir Khan anytime soon.

Even Nitish Kumar, who has this image as the man who delivered the roads like 'Hema Malini's cheeks' that his fellow socialist-turned-foe-turned-ally-turned foe Lalu Prasad had promised in Bihar, seems to be aware of the power of the drug.

He did not meet the family after Sushant Singh died, but mentioned the actor in his first digital address kicking off his campaign for re-election as chief minister.

His ally, the BJP, is sticking up posters of Sushant across Patna.

The Rajput community, around 6 per cent of Bihar's population of 9.9 crore, is a rich and powerful voice in the caste-ridden heartland of the state.

The CBI, apart from the fodder scam in which bigwigs such as Lalu have been convicted, has failed miserably in most big cases in Bihar. And the caged parrot has parroted what it has been taught.

The agency is yet to crack the at-least-Rs-2000-crore Srijan scam from 2017.

Even its chargesheet this year naming an IAS officer who contested an election on a ticket from Nitish's Janata Dal-United has raised eyebrows and prompted whispers of 'leverage'; and 'arm-twisting'.

In the horrendous case of sexual abuse of little children in a government-funded shelter home in Muzaffarpur, the outcome of the CBI investigation was that (mostly) one man did it on his own without any political help.

Whether you will believe that or not depends on how deep your stupor is. How far this deadly drug has taken hold of your judgement.

By the time you finish reading this, don't be surprised if you find some Pakistan angle to the Sushant Singh case too. The good folks at R&AW must be feeling left out amid this national drama.

Sumit Bhattacharya is a Kolkata-based journalist and musician.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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