Two Kannada film actors—Ragini Dwivedi and Sanjjanaa Galrani—have become the face of the Sandalwood drug scandal in Karnataka after they were arrested by the Central Crime Branch (CCB) police. The first FIR named Dwivedi and 11 others, including the son of a former minister, who have been booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and for criminal conspiracy.
The spree of arrests and major drug hauls in the state have not lead to capturing the "big fishes", rue citizens, raising concern over the drug mafia finding political patronage in the state.
The trigger for the CCB's recent crackdown on drug mafia is reportedly the Narcotics Control Bureau's drug bust on August 21, wherein the sleuths raided three locations in Bengaluru and arrested three persons—Anikha, who is the kingpin, and her two accomplices. The interrogation of the arrested threw up prominent names including actors and musicians. The NCB had indicated that the drug network involved children of VIPs, software professionals and college students in the state. The CCB also claimed that they got leads while probing an old case, hinting that many old cases are yet to reach a logical conclusion—the conviction.
Meanwhile, what stirred the hornet's nest is film producer Indrajit Lankesh claiming that several actors were consuming drugs at rave parties. Lankesh, who deposed before the CCB police, furnished a list of 15 names, locations where rave parties were held and information about the drug peddlers. The Kannada film fraternity was divided over Lankesh's statements about Sandalwood's drug links. The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce was in denial until the actors were arrested.
Everyone, from police, the politicians to people, agree there is a drug mafia operating in Karnataka. But there has been little effort by subsequent governments to root out the menace.
Many recalled past cases of drunken driving, accidents and brawls that got buried as they involved the kith and kin of VIPs or celebrities. The cases were suspected to be instances of drug abuse. The education minister too acknowledges that there is drug menace around leading educational institutions.
Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai, who convened a meeting of senior police officers on August 31, said, "The drug menace is a serious concern and so far we have filed 1,438 cases and arrested 1,792 persons."
This time, the political slugfest is focused on the affiliation of the arrested actors rather than demand for further arrests and a water-tight investigation that can lead to conviction.
While the Congress and JD(S) have targeted the ruling BJP for "patronising" the persons involved in the drug racket, the BJP said it will not spare anyone linked to the drug racket.
Leader of the opposition Siddaramaiah pointed out that Ragini Dwivedi had campaigned for the saffron party in the last byelections.
Former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy alleged that the money from the drug mafia, dance bars and cricket betting had "funded" the political coup that toppled the JD(S)-Congress coalition government last year. "The ring leaders of the drug mafia went into hiding in Sri Lanka during my tenure as the CM. But they surfaced during the coup and were found flying the rebels to Mumbai," alleged Kumaraswamy.
Soon after Dwivedi's arrest, BJP spokesperson Captain Ganesh Karnik issued a statement saying the actor was not a member of the BJP and had been given no responsibility in the party. The BJP leaders also pointed out that the film stars had been star campaigners for all the parties all along.
Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa said, "Drugs weaken our youths. We will not protect anyone. I have given a free hand to the police to deal with this menace."
Interestingly, the NCB issued notice to one Yashas, son of Congress corporator S. Keshavamurthy, in connection with a drug case in Mumbai. Former minister late Jeevaraj Alva's son Adithya Alva is one of the accused in the drug case, while another Congress MLA's son is said to be in the dock for his links with a drug kingpin in Mumbai.
Film distributor Prashant Sambaragi said, "The Congress leader attended the birthday party of a drug peddler in Mumbai in 2017. In turn the peddler was invited for the leader's birthday in Bengaluru, which was also attended by big names in Bollywood including, Sanjay Dutt and Shakti Kapoor."
Why target only Sandalwood?
Soon after the arrest of Ragini Dwivedi and Sanjjanaa Galrani, Sandalwood actor Parul Yadav tweeted to express her annoyance over "targeting" only the women celebrities.
"Finally the fight for #genderequality has been won!! I am all for cleansing societal evils and drug abuse must be dealt with firmly. But apparently the only drug dealers/ users in India are three women...no one else - no corporate execs, business people, sportspeople or even male actors is doing/ dealing drugs... should we celebrate winning the gender equality fight or should we cry at how easy it is to prey on some of us," tweeted Yadav.
Actor Yash said it was wrong to single out Sandalwood alone. "The youth of Karnataka and across the country are indulging in drugs. I urge youngsters to give up drugs," said the KGF star.
Earlier, Medical Education Minister Dr K. Sudhakar had said celebrities and movie actors are the ambassadors of art and culture. "If the actors fall prey to vices, it will mislead their fans and followers,” he added.