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Drug Bust Case Against Shah Rukh Khan’s Son Renews Concerns of Modi’s Vendetta Against Muslims in Bollywood

“Like other areas, here too Muslims are first in the line of fire but more than that these cases and trolling show that the rightwing is also attacking the soft socio-cultural power of Bollywood.”

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“Like other areas, here too Muslims are first in the line of fire but more than that these cases and trolling show that the rightwing is also attacking the soft socio-cultural power of Bollywood.”

NEW DELHI — Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan is facing a tough time as his 23-year-old son Aryan Khan has been in jail since October 2nd over a drug seizure case in Mumbai, India. Hindu nationalists have been campaigning on social media to boycott Khan, which has led ByJu’s, an educational tech giant, to stop advertisements featuring him.

Aryan was arrested from an alleged rave party on a cruise ship in Mumbai during a raid by sleuths of the Narcotics Control Bureau, India’s federal agency to combat drug trafficking. The courts have denied him bail as the prosecution argued that his custody was required for interrogation related to charges of possession, consumption, and purchase of drugs.

But Muslims, fans of the star, opposition politicians, and critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi all argue that the case has got to do little with Aryan’s involvement in an alleged drug-related crime. It is about Shah Rukh Khan, arguably the biggest star in the country, who is equally globally popular and a significant cog in India’s soft power. He happens to be a Muslim and hence, critics say, the target of Hindu nationalists.

“It’s easy to see what’s going on: Shah Rukh Khan is not just another famous actor. He is a Muslim global icon who has spoken up against religious intolerance and discrimination in India,” journalist Rana Ayyub wrote in the Washington Post.

The nature of the raid — which involved, apart from agency officials, two members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party, further cemented the skepticism over action against Khan’s son. One leader from the opposition party that rules the Maharashtra state (Mumbai is the capital of Maharashtra) who exposed the presence of members of Modi’s party said, “Aryan Khan’s arrest is a forgery” which was planned for a month “to target Shah Rukh Khan and defame film industry”.

Karuna Nundy, while talking about the merits of the case, said in a tweet that the agency was making their case based on Aryan’s membership in a Whatsapp group as his blood tests were clean. “Either NCB made a mistake, is covering up, or this is a vendetta,” she said.

Observers say the case is a signal to those in the industry who have held back from doing Modi’s bidding to fall in line and also to dent the influence of the superstar row dominated by Muslims – Shah Rukh, Salman Khan, and Amir Khan.

In 2015 when a string of eminent personalities returned their government awards in protest against rising cases of mob violence targeting Muslim minorities and critics, Khan had said in an interview that he “respects the protests” while acknowledging that “there is growing intolerance in the country.” It was seen as a bold gesture from a superstar of the industry that has largely stayed silent in order to not irk the powers that be.

In the same year, Amir Khan had made similar remarks that he was “alarmed” by the growing incidents of violence in the country, and his wife Kiran Rao, now separated, had suggested he move out of the country. The remarks made headlines and triggered a storm with Hindu nationalists branding him “anti-national” – forcing him to clarify that he had no intention to leave the country. He had also lost an ad contract consequently.

In 2020 he again faced the wrath of trolls who called for a boycott of his movies after photos of him meeting Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdogan surfaced on social media. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organisation of the Hindu nationalist group, accused him of “forging friendships with those that are considered enemies of India” as President Erdogan had made remarks over Kashmir that did not go well with India.

Recently, actor Saif Ali Khan and his wife Kareena Kapoor also faced abuse from trolls over the Muslim names of their children — Taimur and Jahangir.

“Like other areas, here too Muslims are first in the line of fire but more than that these cases and trolling show that the rightwing is also attacking the soft socio-cultural power of Bollywood, which stays mostly apolitical anyway,” explained Hussain Haidry, lyricist and film writer.

“They want to saffronise — a euphemistic term to explain the Hindu nationalist agenda – the industry, or at least make them toothless to never act as a counter-force against its ideology in future, or tell the human stories of Muslims so as to normalise them. They may not fully succeed in saffronisation, but they can surely sanitise the content of any dissent through fear, and weaken the somewhat progressive-liberal impact of the industry.”

It remains to be seen what will unfold of both the case of Shah Rukh Khan’s son as well as the wider pressure on Muslims within Bollywood amidst Modi’s growing nationalistic government.

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