Indians would know the term ‘Udta’ is taken from the Bollywood movie ‘Udta Punjab’ depicting drug abuse in that state. Currently,the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR) has turned into‘Udta Bollywood’ with an obsessed media holding TV debates, anchors acting like judges, reporters going berserk amidst Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)-Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) tête-à-têtes with actors, associates and drug peddlers.

Parliament witnessed fiery statements as a polarised social media published photographs of Bollywood actors with yester years don Dawood Ibrahim and others reportedly liked to Pakistan’s Army and the ISI.

In the process of course, the TRPs of TV channels are rocketing up, with the 24 hours being taken up with three year old private chats and minute-to-minute account of CBI-NCB interrogations. Whatever happened to individual privacy? Should the CBI-NCB share personal chats and other details with the media?

But then supposedly classified correspondence from the Prime Minister’s office is leaked to the media and similarly classified papers from ministries including the Ministry of Defence periodically land up in television studios, in the hands of the special blue-eyed TV anchors.

All this provides opportunities for actors and policemen to join politics. For instance Gupteshwar Pandey, DGP in Bihar, who just resigned and may even be a state minister by mid-November having made his promotional video before he quit.

The CBI is to essentially probe the death of SSR, with NCB covering the drug angle. Media has been talking of rave parties, the “murder” of SSR and his manager Disha Salian, involvement of politicians, drug cartels, underground mafia with cross-border links, and a supposedly deeper conspiracy that is said to promote certain actors, not others. .

Udta Bollywood needs to be viewed against the following backdrop:

. 10 days after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, MJ Akbar (later of ‘MeToo’ fame) wrote an article wondering why there was this surprise about boats carrying terrorists from Karachi to Mumbai. He said boats sailed this route practically every fortnight carrying drugs for 5-star hotels and Bollywood in connivance with politicians and the police, irrespective of the government in power.

. The UN Drug Trade Report 2011 pointed to India as the biggest consumer of ‘heroine’ - of the 40 tons produced in South Asia, India consumes 17 tons annually having a trade value of $1.4 billion. This news was also covered in the Indian media. Subsequent UN reports have not given such specific date about India.

. Narcotics from the ‘Golden Triangle’ enteris India via Myanmar, and an almost equal quantity from the ‘Golden Crescent’ enters India through Pakistan-Afghanistan. From India ‘cold pills’ are smuggled into Myanmar and refined in secret laboratories to meet Southeast Asia’s requirements of Methamphetamine.

How many thousand/ lakhs of Indians consume 17 tons heroine annually is not known but certainly the rich and mighty including politicians and their scions would be in the forefront. Along with all the many others consuming other drugs.

The issue is clearly national, not limited to Punjab and Bollywood. Rave parties are regular affairs even in Delhi-NCR. The entire drug operation is impossible without the involvement of politicians and the police - an industry bringing in lakhs of crores of rupees which also helps to buy voters and lawmakers.

In May 2019, the NCB recovered pseudoephedrine valued at over Rs 1000 crore from a house in Greater Noida belonging to a “senior IPS officer” Pandey posted at Lucknow who got away saying he rented the house to Nigerian nationals three years back and had no idea what was going on there. Why several newspapers covering this, did not mention Pandey’s initials, you may guess.

According to inside sources, drug use in Bollywood is similar to that in Hollywood and the rest of India. Long and strenuous shoots, hyper-aerobic dances and some actors shooting for more than one movie simultaneously require high energy levels demanded by producers-directors. Someare initiated to drugs in parties but aren’t addicted. For some it is the way of life – nothing unusual. Actors used drugs in the past too went to rehab, even more than once, but were not questioned for drug abuse, only for the possession of illegal weapons.

After a movie is made, the producer earns money by selling the rights of the movie to distributors and exhibitors. But he first needs finances to make the movie. This is where the underground-Dubai mafia steps in (not in every case) with attendant demands from routine to the sinister – themes, agenda, star cast, you name it. Ever heard of producers borrowing money from banks or corporates? Ever heard of governments asking producers where they get the funds to make movies and to authenticate the source?

Member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy insists SSR was murdered being too independent and talented for the Bollywood cartel who contracted the Dubai mafia to kill him. He has called for the “cleaning” up of Bollywood like JNU! But these happenings in Bollywood have been going on under various governments that makes them complicit - remember Gulshan Kumar who was shot in broad daylight? Drugs and terror are intimately linked and no drug cartel is possible without the involvement of politicians and the police.

Bollywood being the best advertisement platform, politicians woo them for boosting their images. For the same reason Bollywood 2.0 is being planned for Uttar Pradesh. What “Bollywood cleanup” will happen is ambiguous because every happening in India is linked to politics. If Maharashtra today had a BJP-Shiv Sena government would this probe have been ordered? If Rs 1000 crore worth drugs are found in a house belonging to a senior IPS officer in Mumbai under the present state government, would he be let off as easily as Pandey posted in Lucknow? The answer in both cases is no.

Big fish getting caught in the current probe is highly unlikely. Shiv Sena probably did not realize that adopting the song “Saiyan Ji Se Aaj Mein Ne Break Up Kar Liya” as party anthem could be dangerous, not that any politician will be convicted in the current probe. India is witness to periodic changes in political alignments leading to changed fortunes and all sins washed off overnight. Already Sanjay Raut’s meetings with Devendra Fadanvis and Nitin Gadkari are the talk of the town, with the probe apparently veering towards Udta Bollywood! Some strongly feel that this probe and the drug-drama is solely because of the forhcoming elections in Bihar.

Policemen follow orders whether in the CBI-NCB or at the state level, and at best transfers are the norm. What happens to individual Bollywood personalities is not known but drugs and underworld will remain no matter the transitional turbulence – same as drugs in the rest of the country and the overriding ‘Deep State’.

Meanwhile the show will go on with endless TV coverage about the cleaning up Bollywood – same way the country has been totally cleansed of corruption and black money?

Referring to the 19-km deep intrusion in Raki Nala area of Depsang Plains during 2013, then Defence Minister AK Anthony had giggled in Parliament, “We don’t have jurisdiction in that area”. This time there is no such need because incredibly we have not lost even one inch to China despite Xi Jinping springing a surprise with two divisions!

But the day-night coverage of the SSR death probe does help divert attention from multiple issues that the media wouldn’t dare debate. Finally, who will be convicted in the CBI-NCB probe only time will tell although the general public believes that the end result will be limited to what is politically beneficial.

Lt General Prakash Katoch is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.