Suicide, drug overdose ruled out; then who murdered her?
By Rajiv Theodore
NEW DELHI: Sometimes you feel that even the collective wisdom and guile of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse and Columbo all put together may not be enough to unravel one of the trickiest unnatural celebrity deaths that had rocked India recently.
Now the whole episode has taken a u-turn. Earlier reports of autopsy had declared that the 52-year-old businesswoman had died of a drug overdose presumably of the anti-depressant Alprax. But now a report on the examination of her entrails does not find any trace of drugs or poison at the time of her death. Stumped investigators are wondering whether the empty strips of Alprax which have been found next to the body had been kept there to deliberately mislead.
Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Human Resource Development Minister Shashi Tharoor, was found dead on January 17th after she checked into a Delhi luxury hotel, Leela just one day before. Also, it was barely 48-hours back (before her death) that she accused a Pakistani journalist of having an affair with her husband.
In a report published in The Economic Times, Pushkar was quoted as saying that she sent out the tweets.
Pushkar’s tweets read: “Our accounts have not been hacked and I have been sending out these tweets. I cannot tolerate this. This is a Pakistani woman who is an ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) agent, and she is stalking my husband. And you know how men are. He is flattered by the attention. I took upon myself the crimes of this man during IPL (Indian Premier League). I will not allow this to be done to me. I just can’t tolerate this. I have nothing more to say.”
To give a little backdrop to the episode: Tharoor had quit in 2010 as junior minister for external affairs after Indian Premier League’s then chairman Lalit Modi claimed that Tharoor’s friend Sunanda Pushkar had been gifted free equity (sweat equity) in the Kerala team worth Rs. 70 crore. It was around the same time that Tharoor and Pushkar got married. Tharoor with a two million twitter following is a well-known author and had once run for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations.
But now, post the mystery death more than two months ago, there are more questions than answers: If drugs didn’t kill her, was it a suicide? Was she murdered because of the mafia and the Indian Premier League (IPL) link? Did she knew too much about the murky side of the IPL and threatened to expose those involved?
Pushkar had called anchor Rajeev Kanwal of Headlines Today hours before her death to chat about the other side of IPL, but it never happened.
There were severe bruises on parts of her body and face, pictures of which were taken immediately after she was found dead. Since there were no eyewitnesses, and none have come forward until now, police investigations revolved around circumstantial evidence, forensics, and medical reports. The most crucial among them was the post-mortem report by AIIMS, the state-funded hospital in New Delhi.
Initially the conclusions were rather quick, as if someone wanted to shut the case fast. Suicide or a drug overdose was the conclusion and the police too seemed satisfied about it. But what has been quite queer was the manner in which the autopsy had been conducted, especially in a case related to unnatural death like this one.
According to the Lt. Governor of Delhi’s rules, an autopsy has to be conducted by a three-member expert group each belonging to three different institutions to avoid any conflict of interest, in cases like these. But in this case, the autopsy panel was headed by Sudhir Kumar Gupta, professor and head of department forensic medicine, and included Adarsh Kumar, assistant professor, and Shashank Pooniya, senior resident; all from AIIMS.
The manner of Pushkar’s autopsy has been in total contravention of the ascribed norms. But the city police is always known to be rather comfortable in constructing a tailor made report from panel members from one hospital rather than take a complex one and raise fresh issues for the case to get prolonged.
It must be noted also that the cases where post-mortems were conducted by members of different institutions had changed the whole case and the lead itself. For example, when autopsy was conducted on Anju Illyasi, wife of TV journalist Suhaib Illyasi, in 2000, the panel members came to the conclusion that the knife wounds were not inflicted by the deceased. This fact at once shifted the track of investigations.
There is enough circumstantial evidence to negate the possibility that Pushkar’s death was not due to suicide or even a drug overdose. Hours before her death she had tweeted that she had several health issues and that she would die with joy and smile on her face. Apart from Kanwal, she had also called journalists Barkha Dutt of NDTV and Nalini Singh. Even if she wanted to commit suicide, why would she do so without talking to one or all of them?
In 2010, when a consortium purchased an IPL franchise, Kochi Tuskers, Pushkar was given sweat equity in the company and there were allegations that she got it only because Tharoor was lobbying for the team. Was her murder related to the IPL or to links in Dubai (where both she and Tharoor lived for a while), and the underworld there which controls illegal betting and match fixing in cricket?
The death of Tharoor’s third wife seems strikingly similar to Bob Woolmer, who was found dead in similar mysterious circumstances in a Jamaican hotel on March 18, 2007.