The tragic death of young Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14 shocked the nation and the film industry. The death by alleged suicide bitterly divided Bollywood and exposed the fault-lines in tinsel town over the issue of privileged insiders versus struggling outsiders trying to find a toehold in the cut-throat industry.
Back in Rajput’s home state Bihar, his death has brought together the netas of all hues like never before in a rare show of unity, ahead of crucial assembly polls slated to be held in October-November. The mystery surrounding the actor’s death has fuelled intense competition among Bihar politicians. Is it only ‘Bihari pride’ at play or is it a ploy to catch votes?
While each and every political outfit in Bihar has rushed to demand a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the circumstances leading to the actor’s death, the Bihar Police swung into action by dashing off to Mumbai to collect evidence on Rajput’s death.
A social media campaign, ‘Justice for Sushant’, resonated in Bihar. Jan Adhikar Party chief Pappu Yadav was first off the block. He raised the demand for CBI probe, claiming there is a “deep conspiracy” behind Rajput’s death. Lok Janshakti Party chief Chirag Paswan waded in, too, writing to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and asking for the Bihar government's intervention for a probe to punish the “guilty”.
Earlier this week, junior Paswan even spoke to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, reiterating the CBI probe call. Not to be left behind, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Tejaswi Yadav, too, demanded a CBI investigation while panning the Bihar CM for not meeting Rajput’s family.
What explains the anger of Bihari politicians? Is it the caste factor?
Caste has always been an integral part of Bihar elections. The late actor belonged to the Rajput caste, which has the second-largest population among upper castes in the state at around 5% after the Brahmins. The 5% Rajput voters are more or less evenly distributed across the state.
Traditionally, voting patterns of Rajputs have remained fluid with the community, preferring to put its weight behind parties that gave them a larger share in governance. Many big faces from both the ruling National Democratic Alliance and opposition RJD belong to this community. Support from the Rajputs has become all the more critical for the RJD, which is desperate to consolidate its Muslim-Yadav combination by adding a new caste base for an invincible electoral strategy.
For the LJP, too, Rajput caste votes play a critical role in the party’s electoral fortunes. In Paswan junior's Jamui Lok Sabha seat, the Rajputs, who have over 2 lakh votes, are the second-largest voting bloc after the Yadavs. Similarly, the party’s pocket borough Hajipur has over 3.5 lakh Rajput votes and along with the extremely backward classes (EBCs), could tilt electoral fortunes in LJP’s favour.
As for the ruling Janata Dal (United), analysts say, the social media chatter around Rajput’s death could well help Nitish Kumar’s re-election pitch. The late actor’s success also fits into the aspirations of millions of young Biharis -- both at home and away.
The issue has completely galvanised the culturally and politically divided state, as ‘Justice for Sushant’ has found a life of its own.
Netas were quick to pick up people’s emotional signals, and they've linked the suicide tragedy to Bihari 'asmita' or pride. Nitish Kumar, too, had used a similar plank successfully during 2015 assembly polls.
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This 'asmita' plank may have the potential to unify Bihar's voters beyond caste fault-lines, evoking a regional pride while fuelling the 'Bahari’ (outsider) against Bihari' narrative.
Restore this hurt pride, and the public pays back in elections. At least that's what the netas are hoping at the moment as the probe charts its own course.