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Bihar elections 2020: Sushant Singh Rajput case a boost for BJP?

Last Updated : 21 October 2020, 17:48 IST

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When Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead in his Bandra home on June 14, 2020, almost the entire nation went into a frenzy.

At first, condolences poured in as people looked back and reminisced about how brilliant Sushant was, both as a person and an actor. Slowly, the initial reports on his suicide gave way to murder theories, with some media houses claiming that Sushant was a victim of his alleged enemies. The public jumped on the bandwagon and soon, a large section of the society was vociferously demanding justice for Sushant.

If the public shows passion, can the politics be far behind? Sushant's death became the focal point of political debates and discussions, with some accusing Bollywood of nepotism. During the subsequent course of events, the anger against nepotism was replaced by a war on drugs with politicians wearing investigators' hats and revealing that Sushant was killed by a 'drug nexus'. Central agencies like the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the Narcotics Control Bureau joined the probe, and the cumulative frenzy of society reached a crescendo.

The public at large did not take note of one pertinent point: Sushant Singh Rajput was born in Bihar and spent the first 16 years of his life in that state. Also, the Bihar Assembly elections are around the corner.

Sushant may have avoided politics during his lifetime but his legacy has created political narratives after his death.

One may argue that the cacophony surrounding the SSR case is a genuine crusade from his fans or people in mourning for the death of a bright actor at a young age. So, why are there so many conspiracy theories? Why are so many politicians declaring their support for the cause?

On Sept. 6, the image of a poster surfaced on social media. The poster had Sushant's face on it with the tagline, "Na bhule hai, na bhulne denge" (Neither have we forgotten you, nor we will let others forget), and it was used for the Bihar elections. And it belonged to the BJP.

A massive uproar erupted on social media, with many claiming that 'Justice for Sushant' was staring down the barrel of great uncertainty. The BJP was criticised for using Sushant as a political tool in its campaign, with the saffron party vehemently countering the wave of attacks by explaining that the act was only a tribute to Sushant. It must be noted that Devendra Fadnavis, BJP's leader in the Maharashtra Assembly and the poll in-charge in Bihar, has time and again attacked the Maha Vikas Aghadi government over its "incompetency" in handling the SSR case. He said that Nitish Kumar, an ally of the BJP, had strongly advocated for CBI intervention in the case.

Will the BJP gain anything in Bihar from all the commotion? A straightforward conclusion is unlikely. Sushant's death was the talk of the town but public consciousness has a unique way of functioning. American actor and stand-up comedian Steve Martin once said on Saturday Night Live, "The public has a short memory. That’s why all these big stars do these crazy, terrible things and two years later, they’re back in the biz, you know. Because the public has a short memory."

'Trending' topics change faster than the blink of an eye, a new discourse starts in moments in the age of social media dominance. Add to that the 'recency effect'. In psychology, the 'recency effect' is the tendency to remember the most recently presented information most clearly. If someone is trying to memorise a list of items, chances are that the individual is likely to most clearly recall the items that he memorised last. This is a component of the serial position effect, a phenomenon in which the position of items on a list influences how well those items are recalled.

In recent developments in the SSR case, the identity of Rhea Chakraborty was prioritised more than Sushant himself. The hysteria lasted while Rhea was in jail and her subsequent bail meant that the flow of emotions ebbed away. The arrival of the Indian Premier League and the T20 cricket entertainment captured pan-India attention, leaving little room for controversies around Bollywood. The NCB's drug investigation also hit a roadblock, with the interrogation of top B-town stars yielding nothing and the CBI providing little assistance. And then, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) report on Sushant's death sucked out the momentum. The revered medical institution concluded that Sushant died by suicide, dismissing theories of strangulation and poisoning. The murder theory again became a far-fetched notion.

In the Bihar election campaign, Sushant was almost non-existent. The infighting between Chirag Paswan and the NDA took centre stage, coupled with Tejashwi Yadav's volley of attacks on Nitish Kumar. Suddenly, narratives surrounding Sushant were nowhere to be found. Nitish Kumar harped on his administrative skills and the Opposition raked up the projects that were not completed. Sushant was rarely mentioned. The SSR case was put on the backburner after the AIIMS verdict and the CBI's inability to conclude the case. The focus moved to the rape cases in Uttar Pradesh, the impact of the pandemic, monsoon flooding and the current economic challenges.

Do the people in Bihar really identify Sushant as one of their own? The Opposition hasn't really taken a stance on the case, thereby not allowing the BJP to use it as a mud-slinging tool.

On the whole, one cannot conclusively say that the SSR case will not benefit the BJP. The public may well remember that the saffron party ordered the CBI, the NCB and the ED to probe the case and were the most vocal in demanding 'justice for SSR'. The party's apparent concern for someone who hailed from Bihar and made it big in Bollywood may strike a chord with voters and enable them to project themselves as a party that cares about Bihar's 'sons of the soil'. The SSR case could then prove to be the party's trump card.

The BJP has also been trying to consolidate its position among the Rajput community in Bihar for a long time now. The Rajputs are one of the most influential upper caste communities in Bihar and if they side with the BJP, the scenario might drastically change to give the party a huge advantage.

After three phases of polling, Bihar will deliver its verdict on counting day on Nov. 10.

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Published 21 October 2020, 17:16 IST

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