The SRK son story: Deflection or escapism?
There are many things disturbing about the continued custody of Aryan Khan — that bail is clearly now the exception rather than the norm, that a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worker and a private detective (since absconding) were present during the raid by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and later took selfies with the megastar’s son, that the contrast in how the system responded to this powerful father’s son was so different from how it dragged its feet when it came to arresting another powerful man’s son, Ashish Mishra, son of the junior home minister, and accused of the way more egregious crime of murder.
And we can all have our views on why the film industry is square in the middle of India’s culture wars.
But the worst thing about the kerfuffle over 13 gm of cocaine and 21 gm of charas (as distinct from the 3,000 kg of heroin seized at the Mundra Port that barely made a stir) is the amount of media play it is getting, given the gravity of what else is going on in the country.
The Shah Rukh Khan-Aryan real life starrer is not just about easy ratings for our television media; it is also the perfect distraction from more troubling and important issues exploding all around us. It is the perfect excuse for supplicant primetime anchors not to ask any of the questions that matter.
Even the bruising videos from Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, where four farmers were crushed under a car belonging to the family of the junior home minister (even he has not denied that) and three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers were killed in retaliatory mob fury, have not been enough to dislodge the obsession with Aryan Khan on TV screens.
In a redux of the Rhea Chakraborty case, private WhatsApp chats are being treated as fair game, pronouncements of guilt and innocence are being made from the safety of studios, and in a perverse twist, Shah Rukh Khan’s stardom is being used to sell hatred for Shah Rukh Khan.
If Lakhimpur Kheri has not got the importance it should have, you can forget about the situation with China getting the requisite spotlight. We now know that after the initial disengagement at Pangong Tso in Ladakh, pretty much nothing substantive has moved in being able to get the Chinese to restore the status quo ante.
Beijing is cocking a snook at our soldiers by releasing unpalatable videos of what it claims went down in Galwan Valley when we lost 20 men in the line of duty. Its expansionist ambitions are on ugly display with new fronts of conflict being opened in Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. So far, the country has not been taken into confidence on the scale of the Chinese intrusions, though eyewitness accounts, including by Ladakhi councillors in the remotest areas, have underlined the seriousness of what is unfolding. Tens of thousands of our soldiers are standing eyeball-to-eyeball with the Chinese in what has clearly become the new Siachen. They are getting ready to serve in the highest reaches of the Himalayas in yet another winter with temperatures plummeting to as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
The Chinese brazenness cannot be divorced from what is happening in the Kashmir Valley, where religious minorities are being targeted and there is resurgence in terrorism, or from the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.
Konchunk Stanzin, Chushul councillor, told me it was a “war-like situation” in Ladakh. So, why is this not a headline every day? Which other country’s media would focus on a minor drug bust over a military conflagration?
Now, we have horrific news from the Singhu border, the site of the farmers’ protest for over 300 days, of a man being killed in an absolutely brutal assault, allegedly by a group of Nihangs, over the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. What has happened is unconscionable and makes the situation at the protest site inflammable and grave.
I haven’t even mentioned the shortage of coal and the worries around a possible power crisis.
If television news still chooses to pretend that the custody of Aryan Khan is a significant matter or somehow part of an “international conspiracy’, as NCB has argued in court, well then, the joke is on us.
Whichever way you lean on how best to handle the issue of recreational drug use among India’s rich and famous, it is not important to the fate of the country right now. The story is, at best, escapism from reality and at worst, a crafty, knowing deflection. And the media is complicit.
Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and authorThe views expressed are personal