THE UNHOLY NEXUS
By Sunjoy Hans and Siddhartha Tripathy
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles on some nightmarish stories from the City of Dreams, which have led to an ongoing national movement seeking justice for Rajput.
Over 50 days have passed since rising Bollywood star Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his seventh-floor apartment in Bandra amid rather mysterious circumstances, but the Mumbai Police’s investigation into his case has raised far more questions than it has answered.
The beginning itself was ominous.
Within minutes after arriving on the scene of the unfortunate incident, the police team declared that Rajput was found hanging from the fan in his bedroom and it was a suicide. Deputy Commissioner of Police Pranay Ashok confirmed this despite the fact that no suicide note had been found on the site.
Curiously, there were two ambulances waiting at Mount Blanc – the building housing Rajput’s residence – on Carter Road. Even more intriguing was the decision to drive Rajput’s body more than seven kilometres away to Dr R.N. Cooper Municipal General Hospital for post-mortem – when Lilavati Hospital, a reputable private hospital (far more apt for a public personality of Rajput’s stature) was barely two kilometres away.
Videos shot by some in the small crowd that had gathered by the building on the day clearly showed that the ambulance carrying the actor’s body was declared to be heading for Lilavati Hospital – but that obviously did not happen.
The question of reputation arose because the municipal hospital does not enjoy much the trust of locals, thanks in no small part to its history of corruption cases and innumerable complaints about its poor services (all visible on the internet) over the past couple of decades. Interestingly, people also began asking a bigger question regarding another aspect of its history: How come R.N. Cooper hospital always got to conduct the post-mortem in almost every suspicious celebrity death case, from Divya Bharati (in 1993), to Parveen Babi (2005), to Jiah Khan (2013), to now Rajput?
Yet, just the way things had gone in those earlier cases, Rajput’s post-mortem report confirmed 10 days later that his death had been caused by “asphyxia due to hanging” and that it was indeed a “clear case of suicide with no other foul play”.
A lot had happened, though, in the intervening period – a lot more than the beginning of fierce debates in social media on whether toxic nepotism in Bollywood, which Rajput had evidently faced (thanks to filmmaker Karan Johar, film critic Rajeev Masand and their respective likes) over the latter half of his film career, was responsible for pushing him to suicide.
Pictures of Rajput’s dead body (closeups revealing atypical ligature marks) had been circulating on the internet. The public had begun noting the inconsistencies in the accounts of Rajput’s so-called friends and staff. They also pointed out the evident hypocrisy in the actions of the actor’s girlfriend, Rhea Chakraborty. This set tongues wagging far beyond Rajput’s loyal fanbase. The notion that his death might actually be a cold-blooded murder started catching on, slowly but surely.
Despite this, the Mumbai Police seemed to have kept its investigation limited to the possible role of professional rivalry in Rajput’s suicide, the only angle that Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Desmukh had made mention of within two days of the actor’s demise. From mid-June to almost the end of last month, all that the police practically did was summoning a few people from Bollywood and recording their statements.
While it appeared to make a good start by recording the statement of Chakraborty, its seven-hour interrogation of Sanjana Sanghi, the co-star of Rajput’s final film, bordered on the bizarre. Respected filmmakers Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Shekhar Kapoor, who were close to working with Rajput but could not due to questionable reasons, were summoned early enough to record their statements. However, the ones who had been widely perceived as true-blue members of the Bollywood clique that had harassed Rajput, such as Johar and producer-directors Aditya Chopra and Mahesh Bhatt, were summoned only after top Bollywood actress Kangana Ranaut called out the Mumbai Police for selective summoning during a nationally televised interview with Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami.
Curiously, throughout what eventually looked like an unnecessarily protracted and directionless investigation, there were selective leaks to the media about statements made to the Mumbai Police – all of which supported the notion that Rajput had indeed been suffering from depression and had consequently committed suicide.
Even rising public demand for a more comprehensive investigation, ideally by the CBI, into Rajput’s case fell on deaf ears as the Mumbai Police made no changes to its approach. It blatantly ignored repeated calls from prominent BJP politician and MP Subramaniam Swamy and noted lawyer Ishkaran Bhandari (the same duo who had successfully got the mysterious Sunanda Pushkar death case reopened) for sealing Rajput’s apartment to prevent the possibility of further tampering of potentially crucial evidence. TV footages of the flat show that it has not only been thrown open to journalists but it has also been cleaned up (including the bedroom where the actor was found hanging).
Besides, ever since state home minister Desmukh began ruling out the possibility of a CBI probe, it was getting clearer by the day that the police might just have simply been following the diktats of the Maharashtra’s ruling regime all along.
Soon, and naturally, speculation ran rife about an unholy nexus between Bollywood and the ruling establishment.
The people’s movement for justice to the actor got a further fillip as Rajput’s family finally joined in by lodging with Patna Police an FIR against Chakraborty and six others, including her parents and brother, under sections of the Indian penal code relating to abetment to suicide, wrongful confinement, theft, and cheating, among other crimes. On the same day Vikas Singh, Former Additional Solicitor General and lawyer of Rajput's father, also explained to the press that the FIR could not be lodged earlier in Maharashtra because of Mumbai Police’s reluctance to do so and eagerness to pursue the professional rivalry angle as it was pushing the family to implicate big production houses.
Interestingly, on the very next day, news arrived that Rajput’s viscera report indicated no foul play. However, this development was viewed as yet another attempt by the state police to rule out opening up any other channel of investigation – the kind being demanded by the public, with due support of Republic TV, Swamy and Bhandari, among others.
The story took an even uglier turn soon.
It emerged that the four-member team of Bihar Police in Mumbai, which had been sent in response to the FIR registration from Rajput’s family to probe into details of his case, was receiving little to no cooperation from the Mumbai Police. There were too many instances. When the Bihar police visited the Cooper Hospital to examine the post-mortem report of Rajput, they were not allowed to even take pictures of the report. When the team wanted to probe into the case of Disha Salian – the former manager of Rajput who had mysteriously fallen to her death at her high-rise residence in the city’s Malad suburb barely a week before the actor’s passing – it was told that her file had been “inadvertently deleted”.
The most recent – and glaring – example of the Maharashtra government’s non-cooperation with Bihar on the matter was evident when IPS officer Vinay Tiwari, an SP from Patna who had been sent to supervise the Bihar Police team’s probe, was immediately quarantined by the municipal authorities in Mumbai.
By this time, although the clamour for a CBI probe into the matter had reached fever pitch nationwide, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray categorically brushed aside such a possibility. After fervently declaring that the Mumbai police was competent enough to investigate the case, the Shiv Sena chief said: “If anyone has any proof about the case they can bring it to us and we will interrogate and punish the guilty.”
The Maharashtra government’s excessively strange and stubborn aversion to the idea of a CBI investigation into the matter raised an increasing number of eyebrows and lent more currency to notion that the investigating authorities have been concealing something in connection to Rajput’s case which might expose their political masters or their powerful friends in Bollywood and beyond.
As it is, there had been persistent murmurs about some minister’s son having attended a high-profile party at the residence of Rajput’s former manager on the very day that she died. Curiously, there was also a tweet (now deleted) from Times Now news channel which mentioned of a party at Rajput’s place which was attended by a minister’s son and “ended in a major fracas”. Conjecture over those unconfirmed reports often pointed to Aditya Thackeray, Cabinet Minister of Tourism and Environment and the son of the current Chief Minister of Maharashtra, thanks to his well-known association with Bollywood celebrities.
It is important to note that there is no evidence yet to support any of the above, which is why a thorough and impartial investigation is all the more needed not just to punish possible offenders but also to clear the names of the innocent.
However, the accounts of a handful of people close to Rajput, including his sister and friends, clearly do indicate some kind of a link between the two deaths that happened within days of each other. Of the numerous discrepancies in accounts of various people who have been questioned by the media in the case, one thing has been invariably consistent: Rajput had been extremely anxious and disturbed after learning of Salian’s death.
Yet the Mumbai blithely continued to rule out the possibility of any connection whatsoever between the two cases. With the media doing much of the investigation, it has been revealed that the Mumbai Police had not even recorded the statements of many people who were known to be closely associated with Rajput – not to mention suspicious characters such as Sandip Ssingh who claimed to be close friends with Rajput but have now been proven to be lying.
As things stand now, after Bihar’s police team reached a dead-end in its investigation thanks to complete non-cooperation (read obstruction) by Mumbai Police, the Nitish Kumar government has sent its recommendation to the Centre for a CBI probe into Rajput’s case.
No one knows what a CBI investigation into Rajput’s case will lead to or whether it will happen at all any time soon. But it will be extremely difficult for the Maharashtra government to prove before the nation that the Mumbai Police has not made a terribly tardy, lousy and insensitive job of Rajput’s death case. Because its probe over the past 50-plus days, which itself needs to be probed, indicates only one thing: an unholy nexus.