The Bombay high court order granting bail to Rhea Chakraborty punches deep holes in Narcotics Control Bureau’s case against the actress. The court has dismantled the most serious charge – Section 27A of NDPS Act – for “financing illicit traffic and harbouring offenders” against Rhea. In the process, it pooh-poohed NCB’s alarmist claim that she was part of a drug syndicate. NCB had opposed bail arguing that the absence of drug recoveries from her was immaterial, an incredible position with draconian portents. But the court demurred, flagging NCB’s failure to show drug purchases of commercial quantity in the absence of recoveries from Sushant Singh Rajput or Rhea.
NCB’s attempt at moral policing Bollywood also came to naught. It argued that celebrities and role models should be treated harshly to set an example for youngsters and create deterrence. But the court reminded the agency that everyone was equal before the law and there was no “special privilege” or “special liability” for any role model. The message to NCB is clear: its case must stand on merits. Instead of wantonly targeting Bollywood, the source of much Indian soft power, and feeding the sensationalist frenzy and populist politics over Sushant’s suicide, now reiterated by an AIIMS panel, NCB must strive to regain its credibility as an apex body of anti-narcotics policing agencies.
The tarring of Sushant and Rhea also overlooks the prevalence of cannabis consumption in Indian society and its blatantly misguided criminalisation under the 1985 NDPS Act. Far from becoming a gamechanger in Bihar, the populist politics over Sushant has few takers left. The sound and fury over justice to Sushant would have signified nothing but for the dangerous role played by investigating agencies like NCB, social media influencers and TV anchors baying like lynch mobs against Rhea and others.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.