The Real Whodunit In SSR Case Is Obvious, Isn't It - by Vir Sanghvi

If you have been following the Sushant Singh Rajput case - and these days, who can avoid hearing about it? - then you will know that there have been several important developments in the last few days.

First of all, Rhea Chakraborty has not only got bail but the Bombay High Court has poured scorn on the Narcotics Bureau's case. "There is nothing at this stage to show that Rhea had committed any offence involving a commercial quantity of contraband," the judge said.

This criticism of a case that has already been widely criticized outside the court comes as the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) has confirmed that there is no evidence that Sushant Singh Rajput was murdered. Suicide is still the most likely explanation.

The CBI, which is investigating the case, has said that it has found no suspicious circumstances and there is no evidence that Rhea Chakraborty stole money from Sushant Singh's account.

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Actor Rhea Chakraborty left Mumbai's Byculla prison this evening after being granted bail by the Bombay High Court (File)

The Union Health Minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan who, it was reported, would disregard the verdict of the AIIMS doctors and conduct an investigation himself, has issued a strong denial, calling the reports "fake news".

The Mumbai police, who have always maintained that Sushant's death was a suicide, are treating these developments as a vindication. But they have also made a more serious charge. They claim that their cyber cell has found that 80,000 fake social media accounts were set up to spread misinformation about the Sushant Singh Rajput case. These accounts were outsourced to professional troll factories in such countries as Romania, Poland, Turkey, Indonesia, etc. It was this manipulation of social media that created the uproar over Sushant's death and led to the dissemination of fake news.

No doubt there will be questions about the Mumbai police's claim but nobody who has been following this controversy can seriously dispute that it has been fuelled by fake news, fed by social media and amplified by TV channels.

All this leads to several questions.

First of all, who did it? Who manipulated social media and TV to manufacture this controversy? It is hard to be sure, but we know that whoever did it had access to vast sums of money, to a domestic core of social media trolls and bots, and has influence over our TV channels.

Your guess as to who this could be is as good as mine.

Secondly, what purpose did the controversy serve? Why was it worth it for somebody to spend several crores on a controversy that has not only ruined the lives of innocent people but may have actually besmirched Sushant's memory?

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Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Mumbai home on June 14 (File)

The explanation most often offered is that the uproar was engineered with an eye on the forthcoming Bihar assembly election. The idea was to portray Sushant as the innocent Bihari murdered by the big city, big shots of Bollywood after being seduced into a drug-fuelled lifestyle by a Bengali vishkanya.

If this was really the motive, then it has worked. Nitish Kumar's party has raised the issue and feelings run so high in Bihar that every political party has refused to challenge this narrative. Even in neighbouring Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, who counts on Bihari voters, has not spoken up against the slur on Bengali womanhood.

The Mumbai police say that there was another motive: to smear them. As they are not, in themselves, important enough to warrant such an elaborate and expensive attack, what seems more likely is that the idea was to destablise the Shiv Sena-led ruling alliance. Throughout the campaign, it has been suggested that Shiv Sena leaders prevented the police from investigating the case and many attempts were made by TV channels and social media trolls to try and drag Aaditya Thackeray into the case.

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Both these reasons seem to me to be indisputable. But I think there was also a third motive: to teach Bollywood a lesson. Never before have politicians been so obsessed with Bollywood. The slightest critical remark made by a movie star invites instant retribution. The film industry itself is now divided into political camps. And the power of Bollywood has been skilfully harnessed by politicians over the last five years to make films that reflect a particular point of view or advance a specific agenda.

Bollywood has always been scared of the government - of all governments, regardless of party. There is so much politicians can do to harm the film industry that Bollywood would be crazy not to be frightened of censor problems, tax raids, allegations of underworld links, etc. But through it all, Bollywood has found comfort in one advantage: its popularity with the people of India. Even Sanjay Dutt, convicted in a terrorism case, remains a popular figure and the subject of his own biopic. Politicians come and go, stars believe, but Bollywood remains India's passion.

Well, yes and no. The biggest lesson of this controversy has been that India itself seemed to have turned against Bollywood. Stars who had nothing to do with the case were routinely abused on TV day after day; social media treated actors and directors as sexual predators, drug addicts and murderers.

We know now that much of the social media hysteria was fabricated. But Bollywood has never been so badly shaken. In the years ahead, few stars of consequence will dare raise their voices and no big films will deviate from the messages that politicians want conveyed.

And what of the TV channels that played such a large role in advancing this controversy? It cannot be a coincidence that so many of them follow a pro-government line. But it is naive to say that they were only following orders.

The truth is that this bogus, made-up controversy got them ratings. The more outrageous the coverage, the higher the viewership.

And that, finally, is the most worrying thing. We have become a nation that can be easily manipulated by anybody willing to spend a few crores on social media. And rather than resist this onslaught of untruths and smears, we have fallen in love with the lies.

We may have started out being gullible. But now we want to be gulled. And that, in the long run, is the most worrying lesson of the made-up controversy over Sushant Singh Rajput's death.

We no longer care what the truth is if the lies are more interesting.

(Vir Sanghvi is a journalist and TV anchor.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.