Mumbai: Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has turned into a political slugfest in Maharashtra, with the ruling coalition, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), accusing the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of using it to destabilise the state government.
MVA leaders say the BJP is using the probe into Rajput’s death, which has grabbed national limelight, to not only set a political agenda ahead of the Bihar assembly elections this year, but also to attack the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government, comprising the Shiv Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
BJP leaders, in turn, are accusing the MVA of politicising the issue by resisting a central agency probe and not cooperating with the Bihar Police, which is also investigating the case.
The MVA has been in a constant war of words with the BJP ever since the Shiv Sena snapped ties with the saffron party and formed a coalition government with its former political rivals, the Congress and NCP, on 28 November last year despite the BJP being the single-largest party.
The BJP has been throwing barbs at the MVA for not respecting the public mandate, with leaders saying that the unnatural alliance will eventually disintegrate on its own. MVA leaders, meanwhile, have been insisting that their government will complete its full term despite the BJP’s attempts to destabilise it.
The investigation into Rajput’s death has become the latest flashpoint between the two sides, with the BJP demanding a CBI probe and its leaders pointing fingers at a possible involvement of Maharashtra Cabinet Minister Aaditya Thackeray in the case.
“All this is simply a ploy to try and destabilise this government,” said Shiv Sena leader Arvind Sawant, who was part of the Narendra Modi cabinet until his party snapped ties with the BJP after the Maharashtra assembly poll last year.
“After Rajput’s death, the discussion initially was about nepotism in the film industry,” he added. “Nobody said anything about any possible foul play for nearly 15-20 days and then suddenly BJP leaders started pulling political stunts simply because it does not have a government here.”
‘Using central agencies part of BJP’s playbook’
Last week, the CBI registered an FIR against Rhea Chakraborty, Rajput’s girlfriend, and her family members after receiving directions from the Central government to start a probe.
The Supreme Court has, meanwhile, reserved its judgment on Chakraborty’s plea to transfer the Bihar Police’s probe to Mumbai and give further directions on whether the Mumbai Police should hand over its investigation to the CBI.
The Enforcement Directorate too has started an investigation into possible money laundering by Chakraborty’s family members in connection with Rajput’s death.
A Shiv Sena leader, who did not wish to be named, said, “Roping in central agencies against rival politicians, creating an atmosphere of suspicion and using social media for the same has been a typical strategy of the BJP to attack its political rivals and corner governments in states where it doesn’t have power.”
“It’s a classic page from the BJP’s playbook to capture power in states. We were allies with the BJP until as recently as November last year and know how the party works,” she added.
Political commentator Pratap Asbe said the BJP is trying to target the MVA government by wanting to bring in central agencies into the probe, and by talking about how the state government is trying to shield someone, with its leaders linking junior Thackeray to the controversy.
“Children of many politicians have friendships in the film industry. Aaditya Thackeray does too, but that is not enough to incriminate him,” Asbe said. “But tomorrow, with central agencies involved, an ED may call Thackeray for questioning, and while there may be nothing more to it, it is enough to sow a seed of suspicion in people’s minds and create a negative perception.”
‘Bihar Police’s probe politically motivated’
The Bihar Police began probing Rajput’s death after the 34-year-old actor’s father filed a case in Patna last month alleging that Chakraborty and her family members financially cheated and mentally harassed the actor. The BJP is in power in Bihar in coalition with the Janata Dal (United).
NCP’s Nawab Malik, president of its Mumbai unit and a Maharashtra cabinet minister, said, “The BJP is making Rajput’s death a political issue as the Bihar assembly elections are round the corner and the party wants to make ‘Bihar’s son’ a political agenda.”
Rajput hails from Bihar, and the Rajput community is the second most dominant community among the upper castes there after Brahmins, MVA politicians point out.
“We don’t want to doubt the intentions of the family but there is reason to believe that the Bihar probe is politically motivated. Rajput’s cousin is a BJP MLA (Neeraj Kumar Singh) and the Bihar Director General of Police once wanted to contest on a BJP ticket,” said another MVA minister who did not wish to be named.
MVA stance a defence mechanism: BJP
BJP MLA and former cabinet minister Ashish Shelar said the MVA is resorting to conspiracy theories about the BJP wanting to destabilise the Maharashtra government only as a defence mechanism.
“Our party is saying that it appears that the police investigation is not going in the right direction, so the government should hand it over to the CBI,” Shelar said. “Instead of clarifying this, MVA leaders are saying we are politicising the issue. It is only their defence mechanism.”
“As a party, we have not named anyone. The state government has created an atmosphere of suspicion by not allowing the Bihar Police to do its work, by quarantining the police officer visiting here,” he added. “So, we are only saying, if the government is doing acts to thicken the atmosphere with suspicion, then it means someone from the government could be involved.”
BJP leaders such as Nikhil Anand, the party’s Bihar spokesperson, and Nilesh Rane, son of BJP Rajya Sabha MP Narayan Rane, have named Aaditya Thackeray as possibly being involved in the case.
Aaditya Thackeray, however, has slammed such allegations as “rumours” and “dirty politics.”