In India, a corruption case has been registered against Sameer Wankhede, the former zonal director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has accused Wankhede and four others of seeking a 25 crore bribe from superstar Shah Rukh Khan to avoid framing his son Aryan Khan in a drugs case.
Let me tell you the spine-chilling story of the enforcement agencies in India and how corrupt officials are wrecking reputations and lives.
- Look: Aryan Khan breaks year-long Instagram hiatus, father Shah Rukh Khan drops a cute comment
- Aryan Khan drug case: CBI books Sameer Wankhede who arrested Shah Rukh Khan's son for demanding bribe
- Aryan Khan drugs case: Report reveals loopholes in probe of Shah Rukh Khan’s son
- Aryan Khan case: Sameer Wankhede’s father files Rs12.5m defamation suit against Nawab Malik
Besmirched and defamed
As the Covid pandemic cut a cruel swathe through India in October 2021, Aryan Khan was arrested by the NCB in a drugs case.
Screeching headlines abounded, and a lurid television spectacle was made, with one female anchor claiming to be reading from private WhatsApp chats claiming that "imma bounce," short for "I am bouncing (leaving)," was code for drug chats. Bold-face names were invoked, and superstar Deepika Padukone and Sara Ali Khan were summoned by the NCB.
A picture of Aryan Khan, a doppelganger of his father Shah Rukh Khan, still haunts me -- his eyes look like a deer caught in the headlights, forced to pose with two men, after being "arrested." More on these men later.
As a young man, his family's reputation was trashed and ripped apart. Every slur -- from shoddy upbringing to parents doing drugs with their children was heaped at the Khans. I was left incredulous at the way the attack on Khan was orchestrated in social media and the mainstream media.
Circulating and disseminating rumors
Meanwhile, Wankhede enjoyed unprecedented public and government support. He revelled in the 24/7 media gaze, wearing fancy designer clothes and shoes, giving bytes to adoring reporters, and planting and leaking stories on WhatsApp chats of the rarefied stars of Bollywood.
Wankhede fancied himself the scourge of Bollywood; he had earlier filed a drug case against actor Rhea Chakraborty in the Sushant Singh suicide case, accusing her of running a drugs racket with her brother and supplying Singh with drugs.
Chakraborty spent months in prison and was painted a scarlet woman, not even being allowed to grieve for her boyfriend's death.
Chakraborty, Khan, and Padukone all faced a social media lynch mob that ripped them apart bit by bit for sport. As an earlier target of the same organised and paid mob, I can empathise.
It took several court hearings and nearly four weeks for Aryan Khan to be granted bail. Eight months later, the same NCB gave him a clean chit in the drugs case. Khan had India's best lawyers working for him, yet when a government official decided that he could extort Shah Rukh Khan, nothing stopped him.
Living a life of grandeur
Soon stories emerged of Wankhede's lavish lifestyle and holidays in fancy seven-star resorts in the Maldives. Conflicting claims of an allegedly fake schedule caste certificate to get a government job also made the rounds.
Nawab Malik, a senior NCP leader, claimed that Wankhede was running a bar in Mumbai with his name on the bar licence. Could serving officials run a bar? Well, yes, it was against the conduct rules, but if you were a blue-eyed boy of the establishment, you could break any rule.
So when the NCB gave Aryan a clean chit, was Wankhede punished for the fraud case? Well, not really. He was eased out of his job and transferred to Chennai. So the punishment for ruining lives was a mere transfer.
Consider this: if Shah Rukh Khan, one of the most influential actors in the world, went through the hell of watching his beloved child being jailed and could only watch helplessly, imagine the lot of activists, opposition leaders, and journalists being harassed.
Extortion by investigating agencies
Remember the two men I mentioned who forced Aryan into a picture? Well, they were the private "tip-off" men of Wankhede, wanted in many cases who would make deals with victims being extorted. Even after an "arrest," they had a free pass to the alleged criminal to make deals.
So why does extortion by investigating agencies thrive? Essentially, we are all to blame. The media has the shortest memory and is invested in sordid headlines. Corrupt officials play the game of leaks and ensure they are made into larger-than-life figures, with gullible reporters swallowing all the tall claims.
Anything an official says is treated as gospel by the media. The crooks know that everything will soon be forgotten, so they wait and then continue the extortion as usual.
Counting on the short memory of the media and people, authorities often do not act on corruption charges of their favored officials.
The only way is to hold the government accountable. How many of us in the media are doing that? For the public, don't just buy the scandal claims, be skeptical.
It could be your son or daughter tomorrow.