An avoidable tit-for-tat politics is going on between the Central and Maharashtra governments, with the Bihar government on the side, and two young women trapped in between: Rhea Chakraborty and Kangana Ranaut.
It is absurd that a country with the traditions of using bhang and other non-addictive narcotics — the consumption of which is legal in many countries — should arraign a young woman on a charge that carries a 10-year jail sentence for what seems to relate to all of 59 grams of marijuana. It appears that the Narcotics Control Bureau has nothing better to do. Further, to subject the same woman to endless questioning by two other central agencies, on wild financial and other charges that seem to have no basis, points to a state machinery gone rogue. To be sure, the whole thing is being played out in the context of the upcoming Bihar elections, and inter-party politics between the Bharatiya Janata Party
and the Shiv Sena. The National Democratic Alliance, which is in power in Bihar too, wants to be seen as doing enough in the case of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.
Meanwhile, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation is no better. Its overnight actions to demolish parts of Ms Ranaut’s home and office when she was elsewhere in the country were clear acts of vendetta for her criticism of the Shiv Sena and the state government led by the party. It is possible that Ms Ranaut may have violated some building rules, just as Ms Chakraborty may have arranged for marijuana for her now dead boyfriend, Sushant Singh Rajput, whose apparent suicide has become the subject of a shameful media frenzy and an open witch-hunt. However, at this point, it is worth asking: Where are the citizens’ basic rights in the middle of all this, and where is the due process of the law? The threat of vigilante justice and mobocracy played out in different contexts over the past few years, now seems to have consumed the authorities as well at different levels, with the Shiv Sena’s leaders threatening Ms Ranaut and the Centre promptly offering her high-level security, as though India’s stretched security forces do not have other priorities.
Unfortunately, this low-level drama is being played out in the midst of multi-pronged crises. Enemy forces are at the border with no clear sign of disengagement in the immediate near term. The country is in the middle of a pandemic, which is spreading unabated. India is now reporting the highest number of daily Covid-19 cases in the world. The economy faces unprecedented challenges and the recovery after a contraction of a massive 24 per cent in the last quarter is likely to be slow and uneven. However, the spectacle being played out points to the derangement that consumes a society when it is unable to deal with its real problems and, therefore, seeks escape through misdirected anger at defenceless targets of hate. It was the hapless Muslims and Dalits the other day, it’s Ms Chakraborty and Ms Ranaut today, and it could be anyone else tomorrow. And so those actually in the dock are not these two young women but the people occupying powerful offices, and the electronic media as their chosen handmaiden. This is certainly not the desired state for a young, aspirational, and vibrant India.