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Hanging Fire

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The twists and turns along with various theories and political and judicial intervention that has ensued in the wake of actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has turned into a pot boiler worthy of its Bollwood origins. What lies behind so much intrigue and speculation and where is the investigation headed?  

By Srishti Ojha

No Bollywood script writer could have matched this real life drama which has transfixed the media and the country, and has now reached the highest court in the land. Ever since the actor was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his Mumbai apartment from an apparent suicide, the case has exploded in a frenzy of allegations and unfounded rumours involving the police from two states, chief ministers, the actor’s family in Patna, his ex girlfriend, the Centre and the Supreme Court, along with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Last week, the Central government informed the Supreme Court that it has accepted the Bihar government’s recommendation for a CBI probe into the death of Sushant Singh Rajput. This decision is a major step in the controversial case as the mystery surrounding his death takes a new turn everyday. Earlier, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had appointed advocate Ishkaran Singh Bhandari to look into Sushant’s death and had written to PM Modi requesting a CBI probe. CBI has now registered a case against actor Rhea Chakraborty and five others including Indrajit Chakraborty, Sandhya Chakraborty, Showik Chakraborty, Samuel Miranda and Shruti Modi for allegedly being involved in actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death.

The talented actor was found dead in his apartment on June 14. Mumbai Police Spokesperson Pranay Ashok had said that he died by suicide and the Mumbai Police would investigate and no suicide note was found. It was reported that medical files and medicines found at his house suggest he was suffering from depression and possibly bipolar disorder. After the news broke,there was a outpouring of advice and articles on mental health issues. Initially, the Mumbai Police questioned several people including his father and sister, his business and PR manager, Director Mahesh Bhatt, his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty, and roommate Siddharth Pithani amongst others. While the Mumbai police was investigating the case, social media erupted with several theories and alleged that there was more to the case than just a suicide. The police was heavily criticised for their lack of competency in the investigation. His fans took part in digital protest to demand justice by lighting a candle and shared the pictures and videos online and used hashtags like #Candel4SSR. In response to circulation of pictures of his dead body online,the Maharastra Cyber Cell called it  disturbing and in bad taste and tweeted that such posts would be liable to invite legal action. Sushant’s post-mortem was done at Mumbai’s Cooper hospital and the provisional report given by three doctors revealed that he died of ‘asphyxia due to hanging’ and the same was confirmed by the final report which was signed off by five doctors. The report state that no foul play was involved and it was a clear case of suicide, there were no struggle marks or external injuries his nails were clean. His viscera sample report also came back negative ruling out any foul play, and no trace of any kind of poison was found.

Among the many theories doing the rounds speculating on the cause of death, one was to do with Bollywood’s so-called nepotism. That issue has been a long standing one but it is the first time that it has been cited as a cause for someone’s death. It started with actress Kangana Ranaut releasing a video on Instagram alleging that he was a victim of nepotism. She alleged that he was ostracised from the industry by a few powerful people, there were false #MeToo allegations against him, and he was bullied by the Bollywood mafia. The allegations, added to by other people in the industry, suggested he was being sidelined by powerful figures in the industry. A screenshot did the rounds, in which Sushant had written to one of his fans, “If you do not watch my films, they will kick me out of Bollywood. I have no godfather” Directors like Shekhar Kapur and Abhinav Sinha and actors, Ranvir Shorey and Nikhil Dwivedi also hinted at the “hypocrisy” and “two-facedness” of the film fraternity. Alia Bhatt and Sonam Kapoor were heavily criticised for their previous comments on Sushant. There were twitter campaigns demanding boycott of any movie that has a ‘star kid’ in it, ‘end nepotism’ and ‘Get justice for Sushant’.

The Maharashtra government added to the spice by asking for a probe into angles of professional rivalry along with Sushant’s reported clinical depression. Meanwhile, a Bihar based advocate filed a case for abetting suicide against eight Bollywood bigwigs, like  Karan Johar, Salman Khan, alleging that Sushant was removed from seven films and driven to suicide by an influential gang that virtually controlled the industry. A Bihar Court dismissed the petition on grounds that the matter lay outside the court’s jurisdiction.

Sushant’s father KK Singh, in a FIR lodged with Bihar Police has alleged that Rhea and her family had cheated Sushant of his money and driven him to take the extreme step. He also alleged that she forced his son to put conditions in films offered to him that he would work in them only if she was given the lead actress role, and that she had got him shifted to a resort and told him he needed mental treatment. His further accused Rhea of giving Sushant an overdose of medicines and not letting him contact his family by constantly changing his Sim cards.  Finally, he alleged that Rs 15 crore was transferred in the last year from his son’s bank accounts to other bank accounts which had no relation to Sushant. Rhea, he alleged, left Sushant’s residence on June 8th with a laptop, cash, jewellery, credit cards and documents related to his treatment. He said he tried to call her but she had blocked his number.

Soon after the FIR, Rhea moved the Supreme Court seeking transfer of case from Patna to Mumbai alleging that the charges were nothing but an act of connivance between the State of Bihar and Sushant’s father. She admitted that she was in a live-in relationship with Sushant till June 8, after which she had temporarily shifted to her own residence in Mumbai and stated that Sushant was suffering from depression from some time and was on anti-depressants. She added that she has received various death and rape threats and she is in deep trauma due to loss of deceased, which has multiplied further due to the media sensitivity of the case. Rhea also prayed for a stay on all proceedings and coercive actions that may arise out of the FIR. The Supreme Court on August 5th, refused to grant Rhea interim protection from questioning. Justice Hrishikesh Roy observed that Rajput as a talented artist who passed away under unusual circumstances and if there is criminality involved needs to be investigated.

Following this, Sushant’s father filed a caveat before the Apex Court stating that the he must be heard and no decision should be taken before that. The Enforcement Directorate filed a case for money laundering against Rhea after Sushant’s father alleged transfer of 15 crores from Sushant’s account. Meanwhile, the ED had questioned Sushant’s CA Sandeep Shridhar about companies set up by Sushant in the past and his finances. The agency then issued summons to Rhea Chakraboy under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act for the suspicion of money laundering and reportedly after tracing of two big real estate investments made by her in Mumbai. She has been asked to join the investigation. At that time, her whereabouts were not known. When a team of Patna police had reached her house in Mumbai, they had reported that Rhea had allegedly absconded. She had then released a video from an unknown location stating that she had full faith in the judiciary, the truth will prevail and she will get justice. Rhea also requested the Enforcement Directorate to not investigate her till the time the Apex Court doesn’t hear her petition. However when the ED denied her request, she reached the ED’s office for questioning. She was also joined by her brother and her father.

From politicians seeking CBI probe to allegations to accusations against politicians for alleged involvement in his death, this case has seen it all. A plea was filed before the Bombay High Court seeking an independent investigation or an SIT headed by a retired Judge in case alleging loopholes in the Mumbai police investigation and some jurisdictional issues. The Supreme Court dismissed a plea seeking a CBI probe, saying that police be allowed to do its job. Another plea was filed before the Apex Court seeking transfer of investigation to CBI/NIA calling the Mumbai Police investigation lackadaisical and perfunctory. In fact, a theory of a politician’s son being involved in the case has been doing the rounds, alleging that for his protection the Mumbai police has not been investigating the case properly.  It was suggested that the young minister had attended a party at Sushant’s place. Aditya Thackeray, the Maharashtra chief minister’s son and a minister himself, finally addressed rumours of his alleged links in the case and rejected claims of his involvement calling it “dirty politics”.

The case has been further complicated thanks to the rivalry between the police teams from Mumbai and Patna. While the Mumbai Police was investigating the case under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that provides for the procedure to be followed in deaths by suicide, the Bihar police took it up based on the FIR filed by Sushant’s father alleging abetment to suicide. The case turned into what seemed a politically motivated slugfest between police of the two states. According to the Mumbai Police, the Bihar police does not have jurisdiction. That lead to charges that the Mumbai Police was not cooperating with the Bihar police. It was reported that the police officers had to travel in autos as they weren’t given official vehicles and denied the documents related to the case by Mumbai police. Bihar’s Deputy CM Sushil Modi reportedly said that the Mumbai police was deliberately putting obstructions to a fair investigation by Bihar police in Sushant’s case. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray condemned this saying that police are Covid-19 warriors and not to trust them is an insult to them.

It became an ugly turf war when IPS officer Vinay Tiwari from Bihar was quarantined when he reached Mumbai. Bihar’s Director General of Police (DGP) G Pandey said that Tiwari was forcibly quarantined and Mumbai Police closed all communication channels with them, which indicated that something is wrong. Even the Supreme Court noted that the quarantining of the Bihar police did not send a good message, especially when the case has garnered so much media attention and Maharashtra has to ensure that everything is done in professional way.

The Central government however seems to have taken a major step on August 5th, when it accepted the Bihar government’s recommendation for a CBI probe into the investigation, as Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the Court. After the Centre’s approval, the CBI, which comes under the Central Government, can now take over the probe. This decision came a day after Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s Chief Minister requested the Centre to do so. With such powerful political involvement and the tussle between the two states and competing investigations, it is now one agency that will have the onerous task of separating fact from fiction, and truth from rumour. No Bollywood movie has come close to matching the drama, mystery and intrigue surrounding a real life event. In death, Sushant Singh Rajput has become the biggest name in Bollywood. 

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