Drug angle adds to another dimension to Sushant death puzzle

Death of the promising actor from Patna in suspicious and unnatural circumstances at his Mumbai residence has almost been consuming the entire electronic and digital media space ever since the news broke out on June 14. The interesting part is the nation is glued to the events being unfolded on a day to day basis, if not hour to hour, who otherwise are indifferent to the happenings around, except their own problems relating to employment, lockdown, financial security, etc.

Many have suddenly starting taking interest in the facts or fiction that is being dished out in the media, including, procedural nuances and the criminal jurisprudence governing the case in handsuch as registration of FIR vis a vis jurisdictional limitation, inquest process, diligence expected during an autopsy like videography and X-ray of organs suspected to be damaged, forensic examination before probable loss of proof and recreation of crime scene in the absence of evidential integrity preservation, etc. It may be noted forensic analysis of the body at the time of death is undertaken to determine whether it is a suicide or homicide and if any injuries were found on the body either internal or external.  Probably the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) would determine the probable causes of death, by recreatingthe crime scene, and investigation covering all aspects not allegedly carried out before they took over the case. Further, they may also examine whether the evidence on record was preserved and its integrity not compromised.

Many commentators on social media are working overtime to formulate their ownnarratives which quickly receive attention of the national televisions depending on its news value and preference for analysis. People, who are allergic to the fact that this case is getting too much media attention, label the TV debates as media trials and tend to sympathize with the prime accusedby calling them victim of outside court trials. The mainstream media houses are divided as pro and against the key suspects in this alleged suicide or homicide case. While some national broadcasters are covering minute to minute updates even carrying out several kinds of sting operationsusing spy-camand offering to lend those materials as supplements to the officially sanctioned investigations process, at the same time there are a few other channels who believe serious injustices are meted out to the accused by running out of court trials and therefore extending their platforms to the key suspect that too when probe is on. While it is no one’s case to tarnish anyone’s image or mess with the investigation being carried out by the CBI, freedom of expression guaranteed under the constitution is not absolute. Clearly both the scenarios are two extremes and areattributed to therelentless penchant for scoring higher level of TRPs.That said, had those select media groups not taken up this matter with such vigor, probably the case would have died its natural death long ago. Because even before formal commencement of the investigation, it was characterized as a suicide by ruling out foul play of any sort and accordingly the scope of investigation was localized only to “cause of the death” by completely overlooking the “circumstances around the death” which is something for the concerned agency to reflect.

We hope this expose has a lot to take away for respective agencies across the county.In the hindsight, it appears good that the CBI has been entrusted with the investigation as there was turf war between the Bihar and Maharashtra Police.The channels who persistently followed this story throughout in a committed way deserve to be applauded for the simple reason not just they were the prime force behind the public opinion swing but also displayed courage to touch those segments in the society who were so far considered to be invincible, immune and safeguarded against the long hands of law. Surprisingly except a few, no big names from the industry spoke out on this matter where as on every other issue, the so-called vocal members from the industry have placed their opinion loud and clear. This planned silence observed among fraternity probably led to the debate on the nepotism and insider vs outsider discussion began simmering.

On a separate note, mobilizing public opinion of the scale, this matter did, is unprecedented in more than one way. Notably, the intervention of crusader like Dr. Subramanian Swamy whose letter addressed to the PM that the investigation in this case should be done by the central investigating agencies like the CBI, Enforcement Directorate (ED), has also given impetus to the mass opinion-generating movement in this case. Besides, he was also categorical that nexus with drugs peddlers, financial angles and overseas handling aspect cannot simply be ruled out and deserve thorough examination. And which is why we see Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has also joined the process of investigation lately and drug dealers are under the lens. In addition, many other social media icons, who enjoy mass following have influenced the public mood in a concerted way particularly the youth segment and undoubtedly these exercises created a huge impact on public perception and the outcome is such a large-scale public engagement. At the end this is irrefutable that millions of Indians seriously stand with the victim’s family in its pursuit for seeking justice for their dearest one.

Its common sense now, the deceased was a celebrity associated with Bollywood, was doing reasonably well on screen and the kind of movies he has been part of during his brief stint in the industry, had not just made him affable to his fans but also given him an identity as a stardom who had a bright future staring at him. Naturally his pre mature demise in the manner it played out would raise eyebrows and the subsequent unfolding of details are quite revealing.

Ironically the state of origin and the state in which cause of action occurred happen to be two different sates currently not ruled by the same party/coalition and incidentally has a historical element of acrimony when it comes to migrant (guest) work force. The conspiracy theorist quickly seized the opportunity to politicize the matter by referring to its potential of driving political capital to the advantage of NDA since state election is due shortly in Bihar. Secondly, another theory suggests BJP would try taking mileage in order to dislodge the Sena regime in Maharashtra. Thirdly, proponents didn’t hesitate for a moment to call it a Bihar vs Maharashtra issue and all these imaginations may lack even the slightest credibility as no political party has approved this narrative in public yet. Worst of all, propagandists have planted a story that for covering up the COVID related unpleasant updates including economic fallout and border issue with China etc. the central government is sponsoring this news to be on the air 24*7 just to camouflage its negatives which again don’t seem to be factually correct in the absence of evidence to contrary.   

However, it would be naïve of anyone to say bad elements don’t exist and even if they do, they don’t act. The way initially the investigation was handled, it created suspicion given the approach and that is when people who have little to do with the incident got themselves sentimentally attached and slowly it took almost the shape of a movement not just within India, but even outside at least in a few international locations of repute by display of billboard, etc.

As mentioned earlier, apart from the financial transactions being investigated by the ED looking into possible money-laundering, one other major aspect that emerged in this case is the abuse of party drugs like ‘Ecstasy’ [Methylenedioxy-Methylamphetamine], [MDMA] by somestars in the film industry. This is a well documented fact. A factory manufacturing Ecstasy and two other psychotropic substances were located and raided by the DRI and drugs valued over Rs. 120 crore were seized. The kingpin Mohan Mankani, known as ‘King of Ecstasy’ was arrested along with 10 others who were finally convicted for 20 years. He was transporting the drug to Mumbai where it was partly being consumed at rave parties and was also being exported. Ecstasy is the drug of preference of people in high places, when they desire something more than money and women to get that extra ‘kick’. That is how film stars get attracted to Ecstasy once they make it to the big league. Investigations launched in the recent past by the CID, Hyderabad, indicated that several leading film stars have become victims of drug abuse.

Vicky Goswamy, a small time bootlegger in Ahmedabad rose to become an International drug lord. While in Mumbai, he supplied; mandrax’ a mood altering psychotropic substance to the city’s party circuit and by extension got him a foot hold in Bollywood. He married Mamta Kulkarni a film star. Subsequently he moved to Dubai, where he set up four factories for manufacture of mandrax, till he was caught in 1997 on a tip off provided by DRI through HM Customs, UK. Mandrax weighing 11.5. tonnes valued at US$ 6 million were seized. He was convicted but escaped death sentence. After coming out of prison, he moved to Mombasa, Kenya, where he entered into a conspiracy with local drug mafia and started exporting heroin, and Methamphetamine to USA. He was extradited in January 2017 to US and he was convicted for drug trafficking and right now he is cooling his heels in US prisons.

In this background, it is good that the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has also joined the investigation. It is important for them to go to the source of supply with the help of victims of drug abuse, to whom the middlemen were procuring and supplying to the end consumers.

It reminds us the saying “crime and fraud” are interesting subjects as long as it happens to others. This is one such incident where the family lost its dear member and on the other side, the suspects are under pressure from various sources including the might of law and it is natural for them to play the victim card. However, for a third person, it is just another story to understand without relating to it. As long as the media would keep the pot boiling, viewers would stay glued and presumably the day the story goes off the air, it will disappear from the public memory and the discourse as such.While this is neither the first nor going to be the last incident of this nature, but the larger point is the various dimensions attached to it and the manner those are unraveling.

The scope of investigation has expanded for sure ever since central agencies took charge; be it financial or criminal conspiracy angles leading to the death are under probe. Agencies appear to be taking due cognizance of emerging new materials relevant to the case in hand. Even the investigations carried out till the transition is a matter under examination. Most importantly, the drug angle is another disturbing aspect of this episode. Nexus between drug dealers and glamour industries are well documented and a few members of film industry have been in the center of controversy around drug dealings in several occasions in the past. Books have been brought out and movies have been made to communicate the stories around this menace where celebrities who are respected as public figures are entangled with such disputes putting the reputation of the entire industry at stake.

Ever since the Supreme court finally handed over the matter to the CBI for carrying out a fair investigation, the nation is looking forward to a breakthrough soon without any attempt to fix anyone with a pre-set agenda and hope justice would be dispensed through a fair investigation by all the agencies leading to an effective prosecution for the ultimate conviction.

B.V. Kumar, Former D.G. Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Narcotics Control Bureau & Economic Intelligence Bureau, India

Sabyasachee Dash, Chartered Accountant &Columnist