20200627 Sushant Singh Rajput
Sushant Singh Rajput Image Credit: IANS

How surreal can it get? Thinking about Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s reported suicide in June this year and the subsequent point-counterpoints on multiple fronts and finally with the Supreme Court handing the probe to the federal investigation agency — Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

One wonders whether with the untimely demise of the talented young actor and its consequent maze of allegations and defences, it is art imitating life or life imitating art!

There have been instances of deaths in Bollywood earlier where the sudden passing away of names bigger than Rajput’s kept the rumour mills grinding out ‘stories’ for long. Three of those deaths, at least, have left several questions unanswered until this day.

Firstly, perhaps never before had the death of a Bollywood star brought two state police forces — of Maharashtra and Bihar — almost at loggerheads over issues of intent and jurisprudence as well as it did in the case of the inquiry over Rajput’s death

- Sanjib Kumar Das

Among these, the reported suicide of young actress Jiah Khan in 2014 had the CBI taking over the investigation after there were allegations of slackness in handling the case by the local authorities and following strong demands for a more broad-spectrum inquiry.

Until this day, however, there has been no conclusive outcome of the CBI inquiry, except for the fact that the federal authority had by and large established the charge of abetment to suicide, with the needle of suspicion pointing towards a star-kid.

Police forces at loggerheads

Now, coming back to Rajput’s death, the facets that set this particular unnatural death apart from the ones that preceded it are two-fold: Firstly, perhaps never before had the death of a Bollywood star brought two state police forces — of Maharashtra and Bihar — almost at loggerheads over issues of intent and jurisprudence as well as it did in the case of the inquiry over Rajput’s death.

More on the issue

Secondly, given the way the families of the late actor and his reported partner at the time of death, Bollywood actress Rhea Chakraborty, got embroiled in an ugly slugfest of charges and allegations, the entire scenario surrounding Rajput’s death couldn’t possibly have got any murkier than it already is.

Add to that the fact that the ‘trial’ by a section of the media in India had really not served the purpose of getting to the bottom of the truth, except for further fuelling conspiracy theories and launching a witch-hunt of sorts.

Clamour for truth

Given such a complicated matrix, there can be no doubt that the Supreme Court’s decision to hand the investigation of Rajput’s death over to the CBI is a welcome move.

With all the stakeholders expressing their firm resolve that the truth must be brought to light and with law enforcement agencies in two states locked in an ugly your-word-against-mine slugfest, the apex court had rightly decided to hand the case over to a more neutral body and a higher order of execution of investigative authority.

In that sense, there is every reason to believe that the first and most important step towards ensuring that all those involved with the actor’s personal life are able to attain a certain degree of closure in this highly sensitive case has been taken by handing over the reins of investigation to the federal agency.

Long-winding process

And quite ironically, it is precisely on that count that the doubts over the efficacy of allowing the federal agency to handle such cases are being raised and quite rightly so.

There have been several instances where a CBI investigation has turned out to be such a long-winding process spread over several years that the very purpose of trying to attain a closure in a case is often defeated.

A section of former top CBI officials have often tried to defend the investigative agency’s modus operandi by citing the point that the agency has not control over the litigation process and trials in court.

The agency prepares the chargesheet and presents it before the presiding bench or judge. Thereafter, the legal system steps in in conducting the trials and the CBI has little or no control over what the nature and duration of the court proceedings will be.

High-profile probe

Be that as it may, there is still no denying the fact that a CBI inquiry is no guarantee that the truth will be uncovered and in a reasonable period of time.

If that is one area that the federal investigative agency will have to be cautious about in handling this high-profile probe, then the other aspect of this investigation that should keep many a seasoned sleuth on tenterhooks is the fact that unlike a direct murder charge, where the nature of framing charges and nailing the accused can constitute a more aggressive pursuit.

Therefore the chances of getting the ‘optics’ of the investigation pumped up in the eyes of the public are much higher, in case of an ‘abetment to suicide’ charge, the possibility of forcefully pursuing the accused and bringing him or her to book is that much difficult and even impractical at times.

This is primarily because according to many legal experts, an ‘abetment to suicide’ charge is extremely difficult to prove in a court of law.

Even if one assumes that in Rajput’s case, there indeed are reasons for one believe that the actor had been pushed into taking his own life, proving such a charge in court and nailing the prime accused can be anything but easy.

That’s the challenge that the CBI has on its hands right now. How well it goes about its task and gets to the bottom of the truth and most of all — how fast — will help determine whether there is any closure in this case or not.

Twitter: @moumiayush