Four years after he was arrested for “connections with a drug cartel,” former senior inspector of the Anti-Narcotics Cell of Mumbai Police Suhas Umakant Gokhale was declared innocent last month after submission of a closure report to the court by the Crime Branch.
This came about after a huge cache of a substance alleged to be the synthetic drug Mephedrone (MD), seized from the possession of a constable in Mumbai Police, turned out to be Monosodium Glutamate, a common ingredient used to spice up food. Gokhale had, at the time, reported to his seniors that the substance didn’t seem to be Mephedrone, but ended up being charged as an accused in the case in a bizarre turn of events.
Partially paralysed in the line of duty, he had threatened to sit on an indefinite hunger strike at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to demand justice, which may have played some part in the Crime Branch expediting the filing of the report.
His son Saket Gokhale, a Congress activist who had filed a FIR with Andheri police against the ‘wrongful confinement’ of party MLAs from Karnataka by the BJP at a Mumbai hotel, then took to Twitter in vindication, seeking an apology from Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who he blames personally for engineering his father’s arrest as an example to officers who may get in the way of the larger political designs of political parties.
But what might a subordinate police officer have to do with politicians? Suhas Gokhale was a police inspector, who was promoted as assistant commissioner of police on his last day in service, a promotion that incidentally was withheld when he was arrested the same day, and which his son is now demanding to be restored.
Saket believes his father’s diligent investigation into the use and abuse of Mephedrone and his campaign for its ban might have ruffled political feathers.
Saket links the appearance of the notorious drug in 2012 – banned in Israel, the European Union and the American continent – to a high-profile Gujarat politician. That campaign too began in 2012 and its intensity ran parallel to the appearance of Mephedrone – produced in India mainly in Gujarat and bordering areas of Maharashtra - in the market
“It was mostly consumed by young Muslim boys in the ghettos in Mumbai. They were given the tablets on the pretext that it would help keep them awake so that they can study well through the night. The drug did not appear in Hindu-majority slums. And at one time it got so bad that one Maulana actually referred to MD as an acronym for ‘Muslim Deaths’ and not just Mephodrone,” he says.
But since the drug was technically a chemical fertiliser, there was no law against its use. So, Suhas Gokhale campaigned for its inclusion in the schedule of banned drugs under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
With senior IPS officer Himanshu Roy, then chief of the anti-terrorism squad, also making a similar demand, the UPA government did table such a proposal in Parliament, but it went into cold storage following its loss in the 2014 General Election. It was only a year later in February 2015 when Bombay High Court took up the case in response to a Public Interest Litigation and the new regime hastily included it in the schedule.
Produced at a cost of Rs 30,000 per kilogram and sold at a price of Rs 3 lakh per kg, Saket Gokhale now believes that the coincidences are too many not to raise the suspicion that the drug was being used to fund the election campaign of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that his father’s relentless campaign for its ban upset the powers that be.
“In fact, a BJP leader had approached my father asking him to lay off, saying, ‘Only Muslims are dying of its use, so why bother’. But my father was a stickler for the rules and vowed that he would not rest until the drug was off the market.”
Now in needling Fadnavis for an apology, Saket has a two-pronged strategy – since Fadnavis is also Maharashtra’s Minister for Home, he believes the frame-up of his father could not have happened without Fadnavis’ direct orders, connivance or complicity. Which proves his point about his father inadvertently ruffling political feathers.
But if Fadnavis admits to not knowing about it or ordering the arrest, then it proves him to be an incompetent Home Minister. It is a real Catch-22 situation for the Chief Minister.
Either way, it is unlikely that the Gokhales will get the apology they are demanding. Nonetheless they stand vindicated, and Suhas Umakant Gokhale is a free man today