The public discourse around the death of Sushant Singh Rajput is being dragged to new lows by a primetime circus. In this unfortunate drama, the Shiv Sena plunging into a battle of headlines and hashtags with actor Kangana Ranaut stands out as a notable misstep. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut has responded to Ranaut’s tirade against the Mumbai Police by abusing her as well as asking her not to return to Mumbai. He appears to have forgotten that as a partner in the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena can answer an individual’s baiting by a lack of civility, by issuing threats — and by standard-issue misogyny — only at its own peril.
Such misogyny, unfortunately, comes all too easily to many Indian public figures, across the spectrum. If there is anything that the raucous sideshows that threaten to engulf the lawful investigation into Rajput’s death have underlined, it is this: The players of this unseemly spectacle might be divided by political differences or state borders, but they are united by sexism. Only days ago, senior Bihar police officer, DGP Gupteshwar Pandey, declared that actor Rhea Chakraborty did not have the “aukat” (social status) to question the Bihar chief minister, slipping into the feudal, patriarchal argot that always comes in handy to silence women. It is a bias that has warped the TV media narrative that hounds Chakraborty and her family — who, despite the daily declarations from pulpit TV, remain innocent till the investigative agencies and the justice system prove them guilty.
Given the Shiv Sena’s history of intimidation and violence against “outsiders”, its leader’s grandstanding is a throwback to a record that the Sena should be embarrassed about, and should be trying to live down, now that it is in government. It is just the kind of optics that saner voices in the NCP-Sena alliance should counsel against. Ranaut, who has demanded and got the Centre to give her Y-plus security cover, has clearly positioned herself as a nationalist agent provocateur. But a government, unlike Twitter warriors or television juries, must go by the law and is accountable to the people it represents. It can get entangled in petty fights, it can appear like a bully, only at the risk of frittering away precious political goodwill. In this case, it has only handed another arrow to Ranaut’s quiver of complaints and more oxygen to her self-styled campaign. The Shiv Sena will need to learn to hold fire, discard its old and discredited playbook and address its attention to more pressing concerns of the state.