On June 14, a young actor was found dead in his Mumbai apartment, and more than two months later, a grimy public spectacle continues to be made of his death. Sushant Singh Rajput, Mumbai police and the post mortem report said, had committed suicide. If there are others responsible, they have to be found and punished, after an investigation and as per law. But the several complicities in the spectacle-making are already apparent and appalling — because they could have disturbing consequences for due process. The right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty is being buffeted daily by a perfectly nasty storm, made of forces that have not been created by this case, but are whipped up in it. Prime among them, news TV in free fall, feeding off and pandering to the worst instincts, real and imagined, of its audience — misogyny, voyeurism and an appetite for vigilante justice. In it, also, is a polarised politics, which triggered an unseemly duel between two state governments and their police departments. It also seems to have compelled a chief minister, Nitish Kumar, who is visibly flailing in his fight against a pandemic and devastating floods, to take time out to make himself heard in a case that is being touted as a possible factor in the impending election in Bihar.
The FIR against Rhea Chakraborty, Rajput’s friend and prime accused in the FIR filed in Patna, cites serious sections of the IPC, including abetment to suicide. The case is now with the CBI — after the Supreme Court upheld the Bihar government’s decision to hand it to the central agency. At last count, at least two other agencies — the Enforcement Directorate and the Narcotics Control Bureau — were active in the probe. And yet, that has not stopped reporters and anchors on TV from hashtag frenzy. #ArrestRheaNow is as culpable of this attempted hijack of the rule of law as #JusticeForRhea. It has not stopped politicians from weighing in. This unchecked blurring of lines is not new, of course. And a case such as this one, with its saga of Bollywood and the Patna boy, references to MeToo and the Insider-Outsider debate, drugs and mental illness, is ripe for a gala witch hunt. Yet, it has posed an important question, again: Can the investigation and the agencies carrying it out, which do not have a sterling record of resisting their own weaponisation by the powerful, be insulated from the noise? Or are they themselves cranking up the megaphones?
There is one more question here, and it has to do with the courtroom, the real one, not the TV make-believe. As everybody strikes a pose in the prime time circus, and pronounces a conviction in a case only just handed by the SC to the CBI, an argument can be made for obstruction of the course of justice — far more readily, credibly, than it was made, recently, against a couple of tweets.