The soap opera that has unfolded after Sushant Singh Rajput’s alleged suicide on June 14 is less about justice for the late Bollywood actor and more about politics. It is also not so much about Bihar as about Maharashtra.
Of course, there is a Bihar angle to the story. The BJP has put up 30,000 posters with the slogan, ‘Na bhule hain, na bhulne denge’, seeking ‘justice for Sushant’.
The party is eyeing the Rajput vote, the caste to which SSR belonged, in the poll-bound state. Identifying Sushant with Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar cast the net wider, expressing the hope that the CBI, which is probing his death, will deliver justice to Sushant, his family, and ‘to the people of Bihar’.
Union Minister from Bihar Ravi Shankar Prasad said that had he lived, Sushant would have been another Shah Rukh Khan. Not to be left behind, RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav did his bit to stir the pot in Bihar.
When Sushant’s father, a resident of Bihar, filed an FIR in Patna, the Bihar police went to Mumbai. Normally, there is cooperation between the police forces of two states in such cases, but in this instance, it became a loud Bihar-versus-Maharashtra battle for reasons that were too obvious to miss.
Political parties in Bihar hope that they can turn ‘SSR’ into a major poll plank in the November elections.
Now, with the case no longer just about suicide or murder, but also about drug consumption, it has taken on a different dimension. Sushant’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty was arrested for allegedly procuring marijuana for Sushant, who was, according to her, on drugs. Whatever be the truth that finally emerges, will the sympathy for the young Bihari let down by the Mumbai badlands remain undimmed, with the drug angle coming to the fore? And will it yield the political parties the electoral dividends that they are looking for?
Even without SSR, the JD(U)-BJP stood a good chance of winning. Not because there isn’t dissatisfaction with the Nitish regime, but because Tejashwi Yadav — or anyone else — has not been able to emerge as the pole around which the Opposition could coalesce.
Other political outfits have also jumped on to the SSR bandwagon. The Trinamool Congress has charged the BJP with vilifying Rhea because she is a Bengali. It has also emphasised the identity of her father, an Armyman. And elections are due in West Bengal next year, with a vicious battle for the state already under way.
The Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh has offered full security to Kangana Ranaut, who belongs to the state. The state BJP has offered Kangana’s mother a political role.
Kangana took up cudgels on behalf of Sushant Singh Rajput, called Mumbai another PoK, the Mumbai police a mafia, and took on Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray with a ‘Tu kya samajhta hai’ battle cry. The Sena retaliated, with the BMC demolishing a part of her bungalow, and Sanjay Raut replying in kind.
Many suspect that Kangana Ranaut is a front for the BJP. It may or may not be true. But she, a private individual, did manage to get Y+ security within hours, which is only two notches lower than the security for the country’s Home Minister. Her sudden empathy for the temple in Ayodhya and for the Kashmiri Pandits and her ‘Sonia-Sena’ jibe were giveaways.
More than Bihar, West Bengal or Himachal Pradesh, or for that matter, the Hindi belt, where the BJP may like to use the services of Kangana Ranaut, if and when she is ready, the post-SSR drama is about Maharashtra.
It is about the Thackerays, and who will lead the government in Mumbai. The BJP’s main adversary today is Uddhav Thackeray — and his son Aaditya — and Kangana’s ‘tu’ attack was calculated to weaken his authority in the party. The Sena under his father ‘Tiger’ Balasaheb Thackeray used to be feared in the city at one time.
The BJP will have to damage the two Thackerays to breach the Sena, and bring down the government. The latest in the string of Uddhav Thackeray’s travails is the court’s stay on the Maratha reservations in jobs and education, with the Marathas threatening to go on the warpath.
In 2019, Devendra Fadnavis was confident of a second term, but that is not the way things turned out. A desperate BJP formed the government with Ajit Pawar but it lasted only a few hours. The BJP has been eyeing the state, the second largest in the country, with Mumbai its financial hub. And it is biding its time.
It is also about who will control the cash-rich BMC, with elections to the local body due in 2022. The BMC confers the Shiv Sena the power it wields in India’s financial capital. The Sena just managed to retain the BMC the last time but this time, the BJP will put up a no-holds barred fight for its control.
The demographic profile of Mumbai is undergoing a change, with the non-Marathi-speaking people — Gujaratis, UP natives, Biharis, South Indians — adding up to roughly 40 per cent of the population, and the BJP hopes to galvanise them. But this time, Uddhav Thackeray may also get the support of the minorities, being in alliance with the Congress and the NCP. Unless, the coalition collapses before that.
Above all, the post-SSR drama is about the control — and character — of Bollywood. For all the problems that beset it, B-Town has been one of the foremost multicultural institutions in the country.
Bollywood always draws eyeballs in India. Add to it the pathos of a suicide by a young and upcoming actor, an ‘outsider’ supposedly battling the stranglehold of established dynasties, embellish the drama with two glamorous women, Rhea and Kangana, and that too in Covid times when people want to get away from uncertainty and fear, and telecast it by hyperactive anchors and warring channels — and you have a sure shot potboiler-in-the-making. That is hardly surprising.
What has surprised is the complete bankruptcy of ideas in the political class. This, at a time when life-and-death issues agitate a vast mass of people. There is an unprecedented economic crisis at hand, a loss of 20 million jobs, a 24 per cent slump in the GDP, a huge health crisis with no end in sight, and a worrying situation escalating on our borders with China.
And yet, political parties believe they have to latch on to the SSR case to gather votes. It only shows the extent to which the dumbing down of our political institutions has taken place.