Sushant Singh Rajput suicide: 40 statements later, no evidence of foul play or abetment

With no clarity on how long the probe would continue, the Mumbai Police has issued summons to a string of actors, including Kangana Ranaut, who has in a recent interview said she “did not know Sushant well”, to record their statements.

Sushant Singh Rajput suicide: 40 statements later, no evidence of foul play or abetment

AFTER RECORDING statements of 40 people– including actors, directors, film critics, and others from the showbiz over the last 45 days — the Mumbai Police in its long-drawn probe so far has not found anything to indicate foul play or abetment in the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide case. With no clarity on how long the probe would continue, the Mumbai Police has issued summons to a string of actors, including Kangana Ranaut, who has in a recent interview said she “did not know Sushant well”, to record their statements.

On Sunday, Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh said that Bandra police have summoned filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and the manager of Karan Johar to record their statements in connection with the suicide. Deshmukh said if needed, Johar too will be called in for questioning.

The Mumbai Police had last investigated an actor’s suicide case as thoroughly was in 2013, when actor Jiah Khan allegedly hanged herself at her Juhu residence. The hearing in the case finally began in 2018, when the CBI charged Jiah’s boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi for abetment to suicide under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code.

While the Jiah Khan case has dragged on for so long largely because of her mother Rabia’s insistence that her daughter was murdered, questions were being raised if the Mumbai Police has going a bit too far in Rajput’s case, with no allegations of foul play being made by his family. Questions have also been raised if the probe is guided by evidence or the clamor on social media.

Senior counsel Amit Desai said that in the law of abetment, there has to be “a direct nexus between the act and the instigation”. “People may give reasons, but unless you find any suspicious circumstances that constitute instigation it is going to be a roving investigation,” Desai said. IPS-officer-turned-lawyer Y P Singh said professional rivalry cannot be a basis for abetment to suicide. One has to “actively aid and keep instigating” a person to commit suicide to be charged with abetment. “The definition of abetment to suicide has been stretched to absurd levels in this case,” Singh added.

Sources in the know say the answers may lie at the level of interest shown in the case by those in power. Soon after the suicide of Rajput, when the social media was abuzz with conspiracy theories, Home Minister Deshmukh tweeted that all angles, including that of “professional rivalry”, will be probed by the police. A senior IPS officer, while talking about the case, had told The Indian Express, “We will give nepotism in the film industry a shakedown.”

The fact that murder was ruled out by postmortem reports and no allegations being made by the deceased or his family, is generally enough for the police to finish the formalities in an accidental death report (ADR). It is generally a matter of days even in high-profile cases like the alleged suicide of a 45-year-old immigration officer, N Y Abhishay Babu, in January this year, when he jumped off the building at the international airport.

The police have, so far, recorded 40 statements in the Rajput case. An officer, who is probing the case, said, “Generally in any suicide case, procedures are followed but media does not report in as much detail. We may not be recording as many statements in every such case but here the actor was in touch with a lot of people and we had to investigate the professional rivalry angle as well.”

The fact that the actor’s girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty tweeted to Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking a CBI probe, which was later countered by Deshmukh saying that Mumbai Police was equipped to handle the probe, meant the police could leave no stone unturned knowing well it might not be able to build a criminal case. The police believe that Rhea’s tweet was more out of frustration at being trolled than any lack of faith in the Mumbai Police probe.

Within six days from the time Rajput’s death at his Bandra residence on June 14, the police had recorded statements of 14 people, including his domestic help and friends deemed to be close to him.

The police also reached out to professional associates to investigate the “professional rivalry” angle, which Deshmukh had referred to in his tweet. In this regard, they have noted the statements of top executives of Yash Raj Films (YRF), including Aditya Chopra, with whom Rajput had a three-film contract. Rajput had parted ways with YRF in 2015 and did not complete a third film, Paani, which was shelved.

The police, meanwhile, have also questioned film journalists who are said to have written articles questioning Rajput’s popularity and gossip pieces calling him a “skirt chaser”.

An officer said, “The problem is that several people who claim on social media that Sushant was forced to take the extreme step due to some people in the industry, do not say so in their official statement with us.”

The officer said it was unlikely a case would be registered in the investigation unless the family of Rajput makes allegations against someone. “In their initial statement, they were grief-stricken and did not name anyone. We will record their statement again and if they name someone, an FIR will be registered against that person,” the officer said.

On how long the investigation will continue, the officer said it would depend on what comes up in the statements they are recording. “We are calling people for questioning on the basis of what comes out in the statement. So how long the investigation goes on or who will call will depend on what people say in their statement and not social media,” the officer added.

TIMELINE

June 14: Actor Sushant Singh Rajput dies by suicide

June 20: Statements of 14 individuals, including Rajput’s family members and girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty, recorded

June 27: Two former employees of Yash Raj Films (YRF) questioned about Rajput’s contract with the production house

July 8: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s statement was recorded where he said he had approached YRF talent management agency to give permission to Rajput to star in his film Bajirao Mastani

July 9: Shekhar Kapur who had tweeted about knowing the pain that Rajput was going through and was to direct Paani under the YRF banner that had Rajput as lead e-mailed the police a statement saying the film was shelved over creative differences between him and Aditya Chopra and was not linked to Rajput

July 18: YRF chairman Aditya Chopra’s statement was recorded where he told police that Bhansali had not approached the YRF talent management company for Bajirao Mastani

July 22: Movie critic Rajeev Masand was called in for questioning in connection with a blind dairy item that had taken a snipe at Rajput