India is agog over the tale of two sons.
The first is Aryan Khan, the 23-year-old son of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, who was arrested early Sunday morning for allegedly engaging in recreational drug use at a party.
The second is Ashish Mishra, the son of India’s junior home minister, who is accused of ordering his driver to drive into a crowd of protesting farmers, resulting in deaths and injuries.
Khan and Mishra have both denied the allegations levelled against them, and the two cases are unrelated.
However, the treatment of the two young men by law enforcement, as well as the enormous media attention paid to Khan’s case, has led some to question the agenda of some of the press, accusing certain stations of attempting to “tarnish Bollywood.”
The ‘drug bust’
Khan was taken off a cruise ship on its way from Mumbai, where his family lives, to the tourist hotspot of Goa. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which arrested him and several others, stated that they were detained under laws “relating to the possession, consumption, and sale of illegal substances.” The 23-year-old was held in custody until October 7.
According to analysts, based on Khan’s arrest papers, the drug yield was likely so small that there was no reason to keep him in custody. Satish Manshinde, his lawyer, categorically denied the allegations. At the bail hearing on Sunday, he told the magistrate that Khan had been “screened twice when he boarded the cruise,” that “no contraband had been found on him,” and that there was “no evidence that he had consumed any drugs.”
Protests, runaway car and deaths
The second incident involved Ashish Mishra, the son of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ministerial colleague Ajay Mishra, after a car from their motorcade allegedly crashed into a group of protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur district.
Eight people were killed in total. According to farm unions, two protesters were run over, two others were injured and later died in the hospital, and three BJP workers and the driver were beaten to death by a mob of protesters.
According to initial reports, Ashish Mishra ran through farms and fields to avoid being lynched by protesters. He later claimed that he was not in the car at the time of the incident, which his father supported.
Only after opposition parties and farmers’ unions protested did the police finally open an investigation on Monday morning, and the father and son were charged.
“The police’s reluctance and delay in filing the complaint is inexcusable,” said Vikram Singh, a former top police official from Uttar Pradesh’s northern state.
“The incident in Lakhimpur is much more serious because there was a loss of life, but Khan’s arrest has stolen the spotlight,” he said.
The media coverage
Throughout Sunday, some TV channels feasted on Khan family’s ordeal. He was photographed and videotaped being escorted by police into and out of buildings, and his “arrest memo” was broadcast on television and widely shared on WhatsApp.
One anchor called Khan’s arrest a “major bust of a rave party,” while another demanded that the “nexus between Bollywood and drugs” be severed.
Guests on these channels made unverified claims about the actor’s son and chastised him and his wife for poor parenting. Aryan Khan’s name trended on Twitter, along with #BollywoodDruggies and #BollyDruggiesShamingNation.
However, more than 24 hours after the incident in Lakhimpur, the Mishras have yet to be summoned to the police station for questioning, and media coverage has been much more subdued.
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Celebrity anchors have refrained from calling for their arrest, and some have even blamed the violence on farmers (who have been protesting for a year in many parts of north India against three new laws).
On Monday morning, the only hashtag that trended for hours was one urging Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to “beat the farmers and protesters with sticks.”
The ‘star son’ vs the unknown
According to former journalist John Thomas, the coverage of the drug bust was “over the top,” but it was “to be expected in our eyeball-driven and click-driven journalism.”
“The star value of the star son influences the coverage as well as the presumed interest of the consumer, whether on TV or in print,” he explained. “The politician’s son, on the other hand, is virtually unknown throughout the country, as is his father. Who knows a junior minister in the Modi administration?”
Mr Singh claimed that the nonstop coverage was part of a “hidden agenda, an insidious roadmap” to smear Bollywood. He cited the case of Bollywood actress Rhea Chakraborty, who was the target of a vicious campaign led by some of India’s most prominent journalists last year after her partner, actor Sushant Singh Rajput, was found dead in his Mumbai apartment.
“The allegations against Rhea were without merit, but they harmed her reputation. Khan’s arrest memo reveals that the drug recovery was insignificant, but his family’s reputation is in shambles “He stated.
“Why did the NCB seek his remand when it was a bailable offence? They should not have revealed the accused’s identity, and the media should not have been allowed to track and report on his every move following his arrest.”
He went on to say that young people using drugs was a “human tragedy,” and he urged officials to be “sensitive.”
“Because drugs cannot be eradicated, drug abuse should be addressed by sending people to de-addiction centres, where unfortunate victims of substance abuse can be rehabilitated.”