The mystery surrounding Sunanda Pushkar’s death in a posh New Delhi hotel has taken a murky turn with the sub-divisional magistrate heading the inquest asking the Delhi Police to investigate if it could be a case of suicide or murder. The 52-year-old wife of Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor was found dead on the evening of 17 January in suite No. 345 of Hotel Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri.
In her last days, Sunanda had alleged that a Pakistani journalist, Mehr Tarar, was having an extramarital affair with Tharoor. The controversy started when tweets, which were allegedly cell phone messages exchanged between Tharoor and the journalist, were sent out from the minister’s account. Later, Sunanda and Tharoor issued a joint statement saying all is well with their marriage, though Sunanda continued to allege that Tarar was “stalking” her husband.
Sunanda’s autopsy revealed that she died due to “poisoning”, possibly caused by an overdose of anti-anxiety pills (Alprax). The death seems to have occurred between 4 pm and 6 pm on 17 January. What is puzzling medical experts is the fact that Alprax, which belongs to the benzodiazepine category of anti-anxiety drugs, is not known to have the toxicity levels normally required to cause death by an overdose. “However, the reaction to an overdose varies from individual to individual,” explains Dr Puneet Dwivedi of Fortis Hospital in New Delhi’s Vasant Kunj. “In people with respiratory disorders, a very high dose could prove lethal.”
The tragedy of his wife’s death seems to have earned the flamboyant minister some sympathy in his constituency. Jeemon Jacob on the mood in Thiruvananthapuram
Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resource development and MP from Thiruvananthapuram, is no stranger to controversy. When his wife Sunanda Pushkar was found dead in a hotel room in New Delhi on 17 January, he found himself once again in the eye of a storm. His detractors hoped this would ruin his chances to retain his Lok Sabha seat in the upcoming General Election.
However, the 57-year-old has braved many such crises ever since he bid adieu to his career in the UN in 2007 to enter the rough and tumble of politics in India. When he contested the 2009 Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket from Thiruvananthapuram, he was criticised as an “elite outsider”. He won the seat with a handsome margin of around 1 lakh votes and went on to become the MoS for External Affairs in the UPA-2 government. However, he had to resign from that post just a year later, following allegations that he had misused his office to get shares in the IPL cricket franchise of Kochi. In his resignation speech, he had vehemently denied the charges and asked for a probe to bring out the truth. And in 2012, he was reinducted into the Cabinet as MoS (Human Resource Development).
Tharoor has a huge fan following in his constituency. In fact, many compare his popularity with that of former chief minister and CPM leader VS Achuthanandan, who is currently leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly. He is especially adored by the youth and women, who think he is strikingly different from the other politicians they have seen. No wonder there is no dearth of politicians across party lines in Kerala who consider Tharoor an “intruder” in their domain.
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What does trashing Sunanda Pushkar say about our attitudes to women, asks Shoma Chaudhury
Amidst the immense noise of the IPL controversy, away from public view, a woman has been confronted with a deeply personal crisis: she can no longer recognise herself. A massive juggernaut has rolled over her, crushed her out of shape, and moved on without a backward glance. She has been left to cope with the painful out-of-body experience of watching the mangled remains of who she used to be. Left to muse, in private bewilderment, why her image and the person she knew herself to be no longer matched.
Sunanda Pushkar, the woman in the tableau, was not hit by some unheeding truck. She was hit by the media. As Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, the doctor parents of the slain Aarushi, know only too well, this is not the first time it’s happened. In its feeding frenzy for 24/7 excitement, the media has developed a curious way of turning fathers into murderers; women into vamps. Facts, evidence, the line between public and private — all the good, old-fashioned gears of journalism no longer have any place. Rash allegations are enough. The rear-view mirrors are gone. You can now recklessly ride over people and not look back.