Patna: The Sushant Singh Rajput case is turning out to be a story of three states. Apart from Maharashtra and Bihar, whose police forces are in an alleged stand-off over the probe into the actor’s death, there is a third state involved.
According to informed sources close to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar telephoned Nitish and urged him to get an FIR instituted in the state.
The Bollywood star’s death by suicide has turned political in poll-bound Bihar, with a number of parties in the state, including the opposition RJD, demanding a CBI probe in the case. The chief minister, who sent his condolences to the family after Rajput’s death on 14 June, remained mum and took no action up until 25 July, when the actor’s family lodged an FIR in Patna.
Within two days, a team of the Bihar Police was sent to Mumbai on 27 July.
“Nitish Kumar was feeling left out in the growing chorus in Bihar for a CBI probe into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. He took Khattar’s advice,” an informed source told ThePrint.
While the Bihar Police team is in Mumbai to investigate the death, informed sources indicate that Nitish may now recommend a CBI probe even before the Supreme Court hears actress Rhea Chakraborty’s plea to transfer all related probes to the Mumbai Police. The FIR in Patna names the actress as an accused.
There is also a strong feeling among BJP leaders in Bihar that Khattar made the phone call at the behest of senior IPS officer O.P. Singh. Currently the Faridabad police commissioner, Singh, who is the Bollywood actor’s brother-in-law, is said to be a close confidant of the Haryana CM.
Khattar also has other Bihar connections. Before he became the Haryana chief minister in 2014, he was a politically unknown RSS pracharak based out of UP who frequently visited Bihar. He has ties to a number of Bihar leaders.
ThePrint tried to contact O.P. Singh on his mobile number but his personal assistant (PA) said the police commissioner was too busy to talk. ThePrint has also contacted Khattar but is yet to get a response. This report will be updated if a reply is received.
The family’s lawyer in the Supreme Court, Vikas Singh, however, suggested that the FIR had nothing to do with the Bihar chief minister. He said the FIR was filed by Rajput’s father and the delay was because the family was in mourning. He added that the family only approached the Bihar Police as it felt that the probe by the Mumbai Police was not headed in the right direction.
Revival of Mumbai-Bihar acrimonious narrative
Though both chief ministers — Nitish Kumar and Uddhav Thackeray — have declared that the Sushant Singh Rajput probe was not a Bihar vs Maharashtra issue, the episode has revived the bitterness those in Bihar have for the western state.
Such is the mistrust that late Friday night, when the Bihar Police team was whisked away by the Maharashtra Police, there was speculation in Bihar that the team had been arrested.
It took Bihar DGP Gupteshwar Pandey to clarify Saturday that the Maharashtra Police had actually escorted the Bihar team to a safe destination. He, however, added that the “Bihar Police team is not getting the expected help from Mumbai Police”.
On the same day, Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi alleged that Thackeray is trying to save those responsible in the case as he was under pressure from the “Bollywood mafia”.
“There have been incidents of injustice to Biharis even before,” Modi told ThePrint. “But under the influence of the NCP and Congress, Udhav Thakaray has crossed all limits and blocked all efforts for a CBI probe.”
The bitterness between the two states began in 2003 when a group of Bihari youngsters who had gone to Mumbai to appear in the railway recruitment exam were attacked by the youth wing of the Shiv Sena, then led by Raj Thackeray.
It escalated in 2008 when Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) launched an agitation against north Indians, which mainly ended up targeting those from Bihar. Raj Thackeray had also mocked the Chhath Puja, the most revered religious festival in UP and Bihar.
The Shiv Sena joined in, fearing an erosion of Maratha votes, and had tagged those from Bihar as being unwanted in Mumbai. The flash-point came in October 2008 when a Bihari youth, Rahul Raj, was shot dead by the Mumbai Police after he hijacked a bus vowing revenge against Raj Thackeray.
The killing united Bihari leaders. While RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav, then India’s railway minister dubbed it a murder, Nitish Kumar criticised the Mumbai Police for using excessive force. Then Maharashtra home minister, R. R. Patil, however, backed the Mumbai Police.
When tensions eased
The frayed tempers between Maharashtra and Bihar cooled after Nitish addressed a meeting of Biharis in Mumbai on 15 April 2012. The meeting was initially opposed by Raj Thackaray who had threatened not to allow the Bihar CM to enter but did not eventually create any problem.
“The address cooled the tensions and Nitish’s speech, addressing over one lakh Biharis, was largely appreciated. He said that Biharis wherever they go are not a burden and work towards removing the burdens of the states they go to,” said former JD(U) MLC Devesh Thakur, who had organised the meeting in 2012. “It was widely covered in the media. After that, there has not been a single case of a Bihari being attacked in Maharashtra,” he added.
There are an estimated 25 lakh Biharis living in Maharashtra.
The now growing tension creates problems for politicians like Sanjay Nirupam — a Bihari by birth who is a politician in Mumbai. “The Mumbai Police is one of the best in the country and its competence cannot be questioned. But I feel Uddhav Thackeray should honour the sentiments of Sushant Singh Rajput’s fans and family,” Nirupam said.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And have just turned three.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous and questioning journalism. Please click on the link below. Your support will define ThePrint’s future.