Deepika to Appear Before NCB as Farmers Protest Across India. A Big Test for Indian Media

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Deepika to Appear Before NCB as Farmers Protest Across India. A Big Test for Indian Media

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Over the last week, the investigation into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput has taken a dramatic turn. Months after the Narcotics Control Bureau stepped in to investigate whether the actor was influenced into taking drugs, not many arrests have been made, but summons have been issued by the NCB to a slew of Bollywood stars – all actresses – including Deepika Padukone, Shraddha Kapoor, Sara Ali Khan, and Rakul Preet Singh.

Now, according to The Indian Express, it has emerged that the NCB has made no arrests in the FIR initially filed against six individuals, including Rhea Chakraborty, and her brother Showik, for WhatsApp chats in which they apparently discuss drugs.

Instead the two have been booked along with many others under another FIR, filed two days later, which aims to “uproot the drug citadel in Mumbai, especially Bollywood”.

In this second FIR, the report says, some seizures have been made, but there has been very little mention of Sushant Singh Rajput, whose name was added later. Padukone and Rakul Preet Singh have been summoned under the first FIR, under which no seizures have been made that would act as corroborative evidence.

Padukone is the latest high profile name to crop up in the NCB’s investigations, after a leaked WhatsApp conversation purportedly between her manager Karishma Prakash and a person named “D” surfaced. The chats are from October 2017, where Padukone is reportedly asking for hash but there is no proof of whether she acquired the drugs.

“If the media and the Narcotics Control Bureau are chasing a 2017 WhatsApp chat where Padukone seems to be asking for hash – whether or not for her consumption we do not know – should they also not be asking for the arrest of Kangana Ranaut, who has admitted that she used to be a drug user until a few years back? Goose-gander?” journalist Rajyasree Sen writes in Newslaundry.

Deepika Padukone has been summoned to the NCB headquarters on September 25, a date that happens to coincide with a nationwide farmers’ march against the contentious farm bills.

Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai on a panel discussion on India Today raised questions about how NCB is selectively leaking WhatsApp conversations.

Several on Twitter have claimed that the summons were issued on that date on purpose, to draw attention away from the protest. Journalist Saba Naqvi said the date of the farmers’ protest should be rescheduled to avoid the inevitable.

Some, such as Congress leader Karti Chidambaram, have said, on the other hand, that the summons issued to Deepika Padukone were in response to her meeting with JNU students last year, during the peak of the anti-CAA protests. He said it was a distraction from the real issue, which is that our GDP figures were in shambles.

Historian Ramachandra Guha agreed, and indicated that this wouldn’t be the first time such diversion tactics have been used by Indian governments, citing an example from Indira Gandhi’s regime.

Now as the country sets itself up for the latest twist in this months-long saga over an actor’s unfortunate death, it will be interesting to see how much time the media gives for two important stories on the same day.

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