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Mysterious death of Sunanda

By accusing Shashi Tharoor of abetting ‘suicide’ of his wife Sunanda Pushkar, Delhi Police assert he’s no more a murder suspect

Sunanda Pushkar’s death is a “case of suicide”, according to the chargesheet filed by the Delhi Police on Monday. It took the cops four long years to conclude that it was not a murder.

Pushkar was found dead in her Leela Palace hotel room on January 17, 2014. According to the 3,000-page police chargesheet, she killed herself by consuming an overdose of antidepressant pills, alprazolam (Alprax).

The fact that she committed suicide also means that it was not a murder. So Shashi Tharoor — Pushkar’s husband, Congress leader and former under-secretary-general of the United Nations — is no more a suspect. But there’s a twist in the tale.

The Delhi Police have held Tharoor responsible for abetting his wife’s suicide and charged him under Sections 306 (abetment) and 498A (cruelty by husband) of the Indian Penal Code.

Tharoor and Pushkar were married for a little over three years. It was the third marriage for both of them.

A police officer, who was part of the investigation in the initial stages, says Tharoor should be happy with the development. The case could have entangled him in a major problem, effectively destroying his political career.

The FIR filed by the Delhi Police in January 2015, nearly a year after Pushkar’s death, had dubbed it “murder” and a case was registered against “unknown persons”.

The latest chargesheet now calls it suicide. It comes attached with a postmortem report that lists at least a dozen injury marks on Pushkar’s body. Tharoor’s personal staff Narain Singh was arrested and has been portrayed as a key witness in the case for years now.

The Delhi Police employed a novel method — that of “psychological autopsy” — to arrive at the conclusion that the death was suicide. Psychological autopsy involves reconstructing the victim’s mental state around the time of death to help ascertain the purpose of unnatural death.

“(This is done…) on the basis of medico-legal and forensic evidence analysed during the investigation, as well as the opinion of psychological autopsy experts,” Delhi Police spokesperson Dependra Pathak said.

Tharoor himself believes the chargesheet is “preposterous”. He also questioned the “methods or motivations of the Delhi Police”.
“I have taken note of the filing of this preposterous charge sheet & intend to contest it vigorously. No one who knew Sunanda believes she would ever have committed suicide, let alone abetment on my part. If this is conclusion arrived at after 4+ yrs of the investigation, it does not speak well of the methods or motivations of the Delhi Police,” he tweeted.

The question is, what makes the chargesheet “preposterous”?

During happier times: Shashi Tharoor is charged of abetting suicide of his wife Sunanda Pushkar Photo: PTI

It is a matter of record that Dr Sudhir Gupta, then head of AIIMS forensic department, had alleged a “tacit understanding” between the institute’s director, Dr MC Mishra, and Tharoor in the framing of a “tailor-made” postmortem report.

“I was asked by Dr Mishra to give the postmortem report of late Sunanda Pushkar as natural death which was contrary to the findings,” Gupta said in a letter, dated May 28, 2015, to health minister JP Nadda.

Over the years, the mystery has only deepened. Many fear justice will not be done. And if any action is taken or not taken, it will always be dubbed as “politically motivated.”

The Congress was quick to react to Monday’s news, accusing the Modi government of targeting Tharoor.

Addressing the media, soon after the chargesheet was filed, AICC spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said: “We won’t cow down or bow down. This is a conspiracy to defame Shashi Tharoor. We reject the charges totally. This is being done following instructions from the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP’s revenge factory is at work.”

As per Indian jurisprudence, the charges in a chargesheet can only be accepted or rejected by a court of law. Surjewala, who’s also a lawyer, should know. And Congress will have to explain why it dragged its feet for months in the case when the UPA was in power.

It’s important to recount what was happening in Pushkar’s life before her untimely — she was only 51 — and unnatural demise.

Tharoor’s alleged proximity with a Pakistani journalist was seen as the immediate trigger for Pushkar’s “suicide”. But Tharoor and Pushkar had earlier, in a joint statement, clarified that “unauthorised tweets” that “misrepresented” the situation had led to “some erroneous conclusions”.
Tharoor also had a lot of explaining to do about certain alleged shady dealings in April 2010 related to cricket. He was the minister of state for external affairs when Pushkar — they weren’t married then — received disproportionate sweat equity worth Rs 75 crore in IPL’s Kochi franchise allegedly as his proxy. She vehemently denied the charge.

Pushkar surrendered the stake shortly after Tharoor met then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and explained his controversial role in “mentoring” the Kochi Tuskers Kerala.

Pushkar was defiant. “Can’t I make my own money?” she had asked in an interview to a weekly, and dubbed the scandal “a medieval witch-hunt”.
The matter was never investigated.