Superstar Shahrukh Khan, at last, heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday after the Bombay High Court granted bail to his 23-year-old son Aryan and his two friends, Munmun Dhamecha and Arbaaz Merchant, after a three-day-long marathon hearing in the cruise drug seizure case. The three were in custody for more than 25 days since the Narcotics Control Bureau raided a rave party on a cruise on October 2 night.
Shahrukh’s fans, carrying posters ‘Welcome Home, Prince’ burst firecrackers outside his residence ‘Mannat’ in Mumbai on Thursday night as part of celebrations. The legal team led by Satish Maneshinde met Shahrukh and his wife Gauri Khan and briefed them about the court proceedings. The high court is expected to issue detailed guidelines as conditions for bail to all the three. Only after the detailed court order is received, jail authorities will release the three from prison.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Thursday night, former attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, who appeared for Aryan Khan, spoke about how the single judge bench of Justice Nitin Sambre, decided to grant bail.
Rohatgi said, the arrest of Aryan Khan was “illegal” because, one, he had neither any drug in his possession nor had he reached the cruise after consuming drugs, and two, the arrest memo made no reference to any alleged conspiracy between Aryan and others who were present on the cruise and were caught carrying drugs.
On the NCB’s argument that Aryan was part of an international conspiracy, Mukul Rohatgi told me that the argument was weak because so-called voluntary statements taken from accused are mostly ‘involuntary’, as per the Supreme Court ruling which says any ‘voluntary’ statement made before an NCB officer is inadmissible in law. The ‘voluntary’ statement that was taken from Aryan says that he had admitted he was a habitual consumer of drugs. No evidence was placed to show that Aryan was a habitual drug addict, he added.
Rohatgi said, no copy of WhatsApp chats between Aryan and his friends was given to the legal team, and some of these chats were deliberately ‘leaked’. This, he said, amounts to breach of privacy on part of NCB. Moreover, none of the chats was related to the cruise rave party nor to the use of drugs on that day.
Rohatgi told me, “normally youths in colleges in the age group of 20-22 years use WhatsApp chats for banter, jest and laughter. During my days in Delhi University, students used to try whisky and cigarettes, and nowadays they occasionally try drugs, but does it mean that they are all drug peddlers? Can we believe that the son of a rich man (like Shahrukh) will resort to drug peddling for making Rs 10-20,000? The NCB charge was baseless and they were creating a scare by using those chats. The conversations on WhatsApp chats were only meant for mutual banter”, Rohatgi said.
On the NCB charge that Aryan was part of an international drug mafia, Rohatgi replied, “Even if we assume that he was part of such a mafia, his sole interest would be to earn big money from business. Did he need big money, coming from a rich family? They can argue about drug consumption, but here not a single concrete drug transaction was shown as evidence.”
“There was no material evidence to prove that Aryan knew that Arbaaz had kept 6 gm of drug in his shoe. Six grams is considered a very small quantity under the Act, and bail is always granted in such cases, because the maximum punishment is only a fine. How can you put a person in jail for an offence that provides for fine only? “, Rohatgi said.
“As far as the political controversy going on between the NCB director and the NCP leader, this is their personal issue and has nothing to do with this case. We said so in our written submission that we are neither blaming, nor challenging any NCB officer in this case. We have not instigated either parties and now that case has gone to High Court with Wankhede filing his petition . That is a different case altogether and we have nothing to do with it. Our case was full proof”, Rohatgi said.
The former attorney general said, “It is a mere coincidence that Nawab Malik’s son-in-law was arrested by NCB director Sameer Wankhede in a drug case and the former got bail after six months. The coincidence was in the timing…. As far as the media publicity for Aryan case is concerned, it did cause some problems, otherwise normally bail is immediately granted in such ordinary cases. Such ordinary cases are never talked about in India, but this was a high profile case.”
Rohatgi said, “when Shahrukh was informed that bail has been granted to his son, he had tears in his eyes, because he was a worried father. For the last 3-4 days, he spent several hours with me on this case. He used to bring notes himself, type himself, about his son’s background and other details. Obviously, when a 22 year old son goes to jail, his parents get worried. After the high court’s bail announcement, when I met him, he had tears of joy in his eyes. He looked very much relieved.”
The other man who was happy with the High Court’s bail order was NCP Minister Nawab Malik. He said, he had more evidences with him, which, if produced, will bring a full stop to the entire case. Since Wankhede has filed a petition fearing his arrest, the state government told the High Court that it would give three days’ prior notice to him if any action was taken against him. Nawab Malik sarcastically remarked, “Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost. The man who was on a spree to send innocents behind bars, is scared of jail himself.”
In the Aryan Khan case, I had said several days ago in ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ that the entire case stood on the basis of mere assumptions and imaginations. No drug was found from Aryan, but NCB alleged he was a drug addict. Aryan only knew his friend Arbaaz and had gone to the party as a guest, but he was projected as a kingpin of the rave party.
On the basis of only two words in WhatsApp chats made three years ago, he was declared part of an international drug syndicate. Only 6 grams drugs were found from Arbaaz’s possession, and, on the basis of these 6 grams, the entire rave party was expected to be organized and drug peddling angle was introduced. On the basis of these 6 grams of drugs, sections of NDPS Act were added to the case to allege that an organized international drug peddling syndicate was active. The NCB managed to keep Aryan and his two friends behind bars for 26 days, and wanted more time for their custody.
Since the entire case prepared by NCB was weak and based on figments of imagination, the sympathy of millions of people lay with Aryan Khan. The manner in which charges were levelled against one another, with politics entering the slugfest, the entire matter looked not only suspicious, but ludicrous. When the High Court granted bail to Aryan and his two friends, the first to react was NCP Minister Nawab Malik, who sounded ominous and hinted at the NCB director’s arrest. He said, Wankhede wanted his case to be probed either by CBI or NIA, but this was rejected by the high court. “He is now fearing his imminent arret”, Malik said. Already, a special investigation team (SIT) is probing charges against Wankhede, and the NCB director has said that the SIT has been constituted in order to harass him.
It is sad to note that on one hand, a senior Indian Revenue Service officer like Sameer Wankhede is saying he cannot trust Mumbai Police, while on the other hand, a senior Maharashtra political leader like Nawab Malik is saying he does not trust central agencies. Both NCB and Mumbai Police are investigating agencies, having good reputation, and since they deal with public, it is necessary that there must be no erosion of people’s trust in both these agencies. But judging by whatever happened in the last four weeks, the reputation of both these agencies stands tarnished. It appears as if both the agencies have become political tools. This is not a good message that is being conveyed to the public at large. The sooner these stains are removed, the better.
For Shahrukh Khan, he will surely have a good sleep at night. His birthday falls on November 2, Diwali will be celebrated two days later, and on November 13, 23-year-old Aryan will be celebrating his birthday. My best wishes to Shahrukh and his family. Let them celebrate the festivities in peace.
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