Six months ago, on June 14, actor Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead, hanging from the ceiling fan of his bedroom in Mumbai. The city police quickly (too quickly?) concluded that he had died by suicide. Tearing at this tragedy immoderately, many TV channels and social media commentariat pieced together “evidence” and equally quickly suggested that SSR’s death was a foul murder with the paw-marks of top Shiv Sena politicians.
While this theory was turning into “fact” rapidly, SSR’s father issued a ringing accusation in Patna that his son had been murdered by the actor’s live-in girlfriend, actor Rhea Chakraborty, who he alleged had helped herself to Rs 15 crore from her partner’s account and salted it away in her own family’s accounts.
The country was riveted. An extraordinary spectacle of knock-down-drag-out fights unfolded between the Mumbai and Patna police forces when the latter launched its own investigation in Mumbai. Charges of money laundering and drug abuse gave a toehold to two Delhi-based central agencies — the Enforcement Directorate and the Narcotics Control Bureau — to jet down to Mumbai. The Supreme Court tasked the CBI to take over the case from the Mumbai police, an order which was hailed as a victory for the Patna police.
Six months later, what is the tally in the SSR case? Three facts stand out.
One, that the SSR investigation has so far cost taxpayers Rs 6 crore at the least. Here is the maths: From mid-June to mid-August, about 100 personnel each of the Mumbai and Patna police forces were engaged 24×7 in their separate investigations. In July, a team of about 20 ED personnel was detailed to hoover the money laundering angle, and in August, the NCB deployed at least 20 of its personnel to sniff out the drugs angle. By the time the CBI got its mandate, the media had sluiced the country’s attention to the “murder theory”. A CBI official admitted that political and public pressure caused the agency to deploy a disproportionately large and high-powered team, also to allow for drop-outs due to COVID-19. This elite team had investigated the Vijay Mallya and Augusta Westland cases. So, on August 20, when the CBI team swept into Mumbai, it comprised senior officers of the rank of Joint Director, DIG, ASP, SP et al. About 25 CBI personnel have been engaged in this case for the last four months.
Taken together, the state and Central government personnel have devoted nearly 460 person-months on the SSR investigation so far. Since the staff members range from joint directors to head constables, an average monthly per person compensation of Rs 1 lakh tots up to a salary-plus-DA bill of about Rs 5 crore, conservatively calculated. Add to this the cost of logistics support, legal advisors, public prosecutors, banking resources, data processing, translators and other technical staff, and the official expenditure already incurred is almost Rs 6 crore. The costs borne by the AIIMS’ forensics team would add to this estimate.
As a searing counterpoint, recall that the LSR BSc Mathematics (Hons) student Aishwarya Reddy committed suicide because she could not afford a functioning second-hand laptop and internet connection to continue her studies online at home.
Two, despite SSR’s family’s high-decibel social media campaign, including regular posts of the sisters’ wedding and birthday videos, the family has not disclosed the name of the suspect who siphoned off crores from SSR’s accounts. Neither has the ED so far established money-laundering charges against Rhea Chakraborty. The family has not shared publicly the modus operandi or the identity of money-laundering suspects, who must have been very close to SSR since, presumably, they had access to his accounts. And the family does not appear to have been publicly fully forthcoming on the seemingly cavalier manner in which they forwarded a forged prescription of mind-altering drugs to a brother they knew was in a fragile mental state. Neither is it clear why a sister left him in his apartment in that precarious state, two days before his body was found.
Three, the “nationalist” media, which had blitzed the SSR “murder” story, has neither apologised nor acknowledged its own motivations. Recall that one day after SSR’s death, the Chinese brutally killed 20 of our valiant jawans and their commanding officer in Galwan, Ladakh. Yet most of our “patriotic” media continued the saturation coverage of the SSR story, and demoted the treachery of the Chinese PLA down the news schedule run-order, which admittedly was their privileged right.
A PIL in the Supreme Court might nudge CBI to expedite its report on SSR’s death. But for inspiration, the CBI could turn to the abrupt disappearance of Australia’s Prime Minister Harold Holt 50 years ago over the Christmas weekend. The debonair Holt entered the waters at a beach on the southern Australia coast for a swim, with his glamorous girlfriend Marjorie watching him from the escarpment, and he was never seen again. Many conspiracy theories were advanced, including that he was a Chinese agent and that he willingly entered a waiting Chinese submarine with state secrets, or that he had committed suicide. But after two days of intensive searches by divers and helicopters, the Australian government officially ended its search, sent its condolences to Mrs Holt, announced the PM’s death and proceeded with governance. No further enquiries were mounted. His body was never found and speculations continue to this day.
Our government agencies would do well to remember that speculations have an infinite life, but probes have a finite remit, and the gulf between them is called credibility.
This article first appeared in the print edition on December 15, 2020 under the title ‘Six months, six crore later’. The writer is a senior journalist
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