Mumbai: On Saturday night, after the Narcotics Control Bureau raided a Goa-bound cruise ship, allegedly busting a rave party, videos of actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan and his friend Arbaaz Merchant being taken to the agency’s office went viral.
On Sunday, as a selfie with Aryan Khan taken by a bald man — the same person seen escorting the Bollywood actor’s son to the NCB office — also went viral, the NCB released a statement saying that he wasn’t among the agency’s men.
The high-profile case took a political twist Wednesday. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alleged that not only were the two persons seen dragging Aryan Khan and Arbaaz Merchant to the NCB office private persons, but one of them — the man seen with Arbaaz — is also a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionary.
The NCP claimed that the identity of the man seen with Aryan in the selfie and the video is K.P. Gosavi, while the second person is Manish Bhanushali, purportedly a “BJP vice-president”, who has been seen with senior party leaders such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Minister Amit Shah, and BJP President J.P. Nadda, among others, on several occasions. Speaking to India Today, Bhanushali called himself a BJP worker, and said he was “just a witness” who was heading to the NCB office to sign as one.
Further, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP raised suspicions that the whole raid was “fake”, and just a ploy by the BJP to defame the Maharashtra government and Mumbai’s film industry using the NCB, a central agency.
Nawab Malik, NCP Mumbai president and a Maharashtra cabinet minister Wednesday told reporters, “After actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death last year, firstly a suicide was being alleged to be a murder. Then there was news that he was perhaps killed because of drugs. That’s when the NCB’s zonal office in Mumbai came into the limelight. Stories were planted. There was an attempt to defame the film industry and one by one various personalities would be summoned.”
“A perception was created that the entire Bollywood has become a nexus for a drug racket. In the same way, on 3 October evening, we started seeing news about an NCB raid on a cruise liner mid waters… Since the last one year, the BJP has been defaming Maharashtra, Maharashtra government, Mumbai’s film industry and Bollywood, and the drama on 3 October is completely farzi (fake),” Malik added, alleging that the BJP is manipulating central agencies using its own leaders and karyakartas (workers).
‘One private person, one BJP functionary’
The NCP has asked the NCB to clarify on how two private persons came to be associated with the agency’s raid, and were seen escorting high-profile detainees such as Aryan Khan and Arbaaz Merchant to its office.
“First NCB must clarify what is the relation of Gosavi with NCB. If NCB says they (Gosavi and Bhanushali) are not its staff, then how were they handling persons alleged to have been in possession of drugs? Does the NCB have the right to hire private persons and conduct a raid?” Malik said.
The NCP leader also said the party had gathered information on Bhanushali’s whereabouts over the past few days from his social media activities, and that the leader was in Delhi and Gujarat a few days before being spotted in Mumbai at the time of the raid.
“On 21st (September) Manish Bhanushali was in Delhi, on 22nd he was in Gandhinagar Mantralaya. He had meetings there till 29th. The 21st-22nd date is important because there was a big drug consignment seized at the Mundra port (in Gujarat). Who was Manish Bhanushali meeting in Delhi? In Gujarat, which ministers did he meet?” Malik said, adding that Bhanushali’s social media profiles are now locked.
“What was he doing in the Gujarat Mantralaya till 28th? Then he came to Mumbai, and on 1st October, he went for a meeting to Gujarat again. Then on the 3rd (October) you can see him in Mumbai. The NCB is being used by the BJP to defame people and is using its own leaders and karyakartas for it to target people who are against the party,” Malik alleged.
However, speaking to India Today, Bhanushali said, “We just gave information. When the raid was over, we had to sign as witnesses. The faces of all accused were covered. Everyone left from there. The accused were also there, NCB officers were also there. We all went (to the NCB office) together. It was a small space, so it seemed as if I was escorting him in the video, but that was not the case.”
NCP’s Malik said photos of the drugs that the NCB allegedly seized from the cruise liner and later leaked to reporters increased suspicion of the whole raid being fake.
“These photos are not from any cruise or terminal but from inside the NCB zonal director’s cabin. Any seizure has a procedure that the panchnama be made at the place of the seizure, the material should be sealed and kept in a strong room. If it has to be sent for sampling, then it needs to be opened inside a magistrate’s cabin. These videos and photos show that there was no seizure at the cruise,” Malik claimed.
Nawab Malik defaming NCB because it arrested son-in-law: BJP
The BJP refuted allegations of the party deliberately trying to malign the film industry’s image by using the NCB, and instead, accused Malik of conspiring against the drug control agency because of a “conflict of interest”.
BJP MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar told ThePrint, “Nawab Malik is conspiring to malign the NCB because the agency had arrested his son-in-law in a raid and he had to spend eight months behind bars.”
The NCB had arrested Sameer Khan, Malik’s son-in-law, in a drug case in January this year. Khan was released on bail last month.
On the allegations that BJP leaders were involved in the NCB’s raid on the cruise liner Saturday, Bhatkhalkar said, “I don’t know who Manish Bhanushali is. The BJP is known as an outfit with the highest cadre strength not just in the country, but in the whole world.”
He further added, if Malik has any suspicions, he should get the Anti Narcotics Cell, which is under the state’s jurisdiction, to inquire. “I need not remind him that his party is in the government in the state and the home department is also with his party. He can easily ask the Anti Narcotics Cell to inquire into his allegations. We are not opposing that,” Bhakhalkar said.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)