I knew very little about Sushant Singh Rajput. And have never been very enthused about biopics made by Indian filmmakers. I have always compared them with Gandhi, a biopic made by Richard Attenborough. After watching Gandhi, I can't imagine anyone else other than Ben Kingsley playing Gandhi. Therefore, when I was asked to watch M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, the biopic about the Indian cricket captain, I was reluctant. But once I started watching it, I was stunned with the performance of Sushant Singh Rajput. Specially the way he played the helicopter shot. Even Dhoni would have been envious. When I heard of his death, I could not believe it. His death felt like a great personal loss to me. What has pained me since then is the politics being played around it.
There is no doubt that his death should be investigated and the truth should come out. If it is not suicide, then the culprits should be identified and exemplary punishment should be given. But the controversy which has suddenly erupted does not inspire confidence that the truth being unraveled; in fact, it appears that the truth will remain shrouded in mystery with various interests at play. Now, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has recommended a CBI inquiry; the centre has today confirmed to the Supreme Court that this will happen.
The Mumbai Police is considered to be among the best in India and at times is compared with Scotland Yard. But serious allegations have been levelled against the Mumbai Police of protecting the culprits. Often, an aggrieved family in its pain and grief accuses the investigative agencies of laxity. But in this case, it appears to be political manipulation that has triggered if not coerced Sushant Singh Rajput's family into lodging an FIR against his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty and her family. The Mumbai Police claims that Sushant's family had not raised any suspicions when their statement was recorded within days of his death. Now the same family has changed its tune; they are not only targeting Rhea and her family but have also expressed their distrust of the Mumbai Police, which was not the case earlier.
How can the family conclude that justice has not been done or a fair investigation has not been carried out till the investigation is complete? If the Mumbai Police has played dirty, the court can always ask for a reinvestigation. In the past, investigating agencies, upon acting in a partisan manner, have been called out by courts.
The benefit of the doubt can be given to Sushant's family. They have lost a family member. They are puzzled and upset. But what about the entire political class in Bihar? In fact, even many central ministers have forgotten their obligation to the constitution and sense of federal proprietary. It is a fact that the death took place in Mumbai and as per law, it falls under the jurisdiction of the Mumbai Police. The Bihar Police has no jurisdiction over this. Their argument is that since the family lives in Patna and they have lodged a complaint there, they are duty-bound to investigate the matter and that's why they have sent a team to Mumbai and contacted all the actors and requested them to cooperate with the team.
The Bihar Police is telling half-truths. As per law, when the complaint was lodged in Patna, the Bihar Police was duty-bound to lodge a zero FIR and send it to the Mumbai Police which would then be bound by law to merge this zero FIR and investigate it from their (Bihar Police) angle too. But instead of filing a zero FIR, the Bihar Police filed a proper FIR and in great haste, sent a team to carry out a parallel investigation, which is violative of the rules and against the basic ethos of the federal spirit. Were the reverse to happen, would the Bihar Police have allowed the same?
Secondly, even if the Bihar Police wanted to investigate the matter, instead of casting aspersions on the integrity of the Mumbai Police and its neutrality, they should have cooperated and assisted the Mumbai Police. Which they did not.
Thirdly, political leaders have already pronounced their verdict - that the Mumbai Police is trying to save the main culprit which in their opinion is Sushant's girlfriend Rhea. It has even been insinuated that Uddhav Thackeray's son, Aditya Thackeray, is involved in the matter and that is why the Mumbai Police has been instructed to not take the matter to its logical conclusion. BJP leaders are spearheading this campaign. The ex Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, has cast aspersions on the role of the Mumbai Police. This smear campaign breeds suspicion that there is more to the entire controversy and Sushant's family is just a pawn in the entire game.
It is clear that the tragic death of a young man is being forced into a campaign issue for the forthcoming Bihar election. The Bihar government, led by Nitish Kumar, is a little jittery at the moment, not least because of an anticipated backlash from migrant workers and the larger handling of the pandemic in the state. Nitish has failed miserably on this count. He has been fumbling at every step - be it his initial response to Covid-19, when he was against wearing a mask as it was apparently creating a scare amongst people, or bringing back students from Kota which he opposed; migrant workers coming back home were not welcome in the beginning. His was the government that did the least testing for Corona and the health system has been exposed as abysmal despite him being at the helm of affairs for 15 years. He needs an issue which can emotionally bond the people of the state.
Secondly, for the BJP, it is a golden opportunity to embarrass the alliance government in Maharashtra led by Uddhav Thackeray. The BJP feels betrayed and wounded by Thackeray's decision to end their three-decade-long alliance. It is also in keeping with the BJP's determination to disallow any opposition government from breathing freely. The prompt inclusion of the Enforcement Directorate in the investigation adds to this suspicion. The ED has no role to play - the allegations of money-laundering are incongruous with the case at hand. Everyone knows how central investigative agencies are used in opposition-ruled states.
The politics that have emerged with the propagation of a "Bihari Yuva"- in-distress story have very little to do with the young life that was lost and everything to do with vested interests. The tragedy just became a whole lot bigger.
(Ashutosh is a Delhi-based author and journalist.)
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