Court’s verdict ends controversial tragic Tharoor-Pushkar saga

Cleared of charges of abetment to suicide and cruelty in the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar after seven-and-a-half years, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor thanks the court as their tragic story, which had a brief interlude of marital happiness, comes to an end, writes PARSA VENKATESHWAR RAO JR.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor was cleared of charges of abetment to suicide and cruelty under Sections 306 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and alternatively for murder under Section 302 by a Delhi court in the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar on Wednesday.

The court’s verdict has ended the Tharoor-Pushkar saga, which had a brief interlude of marital happiness between the controversial beginning and the tragic end.

In a virtual hearing in the presence of Tharoor, his counsel senior advocate Vikas Pahwa and additional public prosecutor Atul Shrivastava, Special Judge Geetanjali Goel said: “The accused is discharged.”

After “seven-and-a-half years of absolute torture” and deferment of hearings, Tharoor thanked the court: “Most grateful, your honour … I really appreciate it.”

Pushkar was found dead in the suite of a luxury hotel in New Delhi on January 17, 2014. A first information report was filed in  2015 with the police initially claiming poisoning as the cause of death. In 2018, Tharoor was charged with abetment to suicide and marital cruelty.

Also read: Sunanda Pushkar did not die due to poisoning: FBI

‘No case of suicide’

The defence had submitted that the evidence clearly showed that neither Pushkar was murdered nor she committed suicide; it was an accident as she had several medical ailments. Besides, none of Pushkar’s family members had levelled allegations against Tharoor, Pahwa had said.

Contenting that no case could be made out under the relevant provisions of the IPC, Pahwa said that the prosecution had failed to establish the cause of Pushkar’s death in four years. 

Arguing that the prosecution wanted to invoke Section 498A of the IPC along with Section 113A of Indian Evidence Act to prove abetment to suicide, Pahwa said, “If you cannot establish suicide, then there can be no case under Section 306. First, you have to establish there has been a suicide. For suicide, there has to be intent. I am relying on medical documents relied by them. How does Section 306 come into play?”

On the allegations on Tharoor having an extramarital affair with Pakistan journalist Mehr Tarar—which apparently soured the marriage—Pahwa argued that there was, in fact, no such affair with any woman.

Pahwa also said that there was “no definite opinion on the cause of death” after the three AIIMS Board reports and four chemical examination reports had failed to suggest the actual cause of death.

Opposing Pahwa’s submission, the prosecution had contended he could only request for discharge if the evidence in the case was “absolutely insufficient”. 

“The doctors stated that there was an oral route of poisoning. However, it was also found that injectable route was also there, Shrivastava had argued, adding that Pushkar had sustained before her death. “You will have to infer it from the report. That is why I said it’s a concrete report and a case of poisoning,” he added.

Relationship embroiled in controversy

In April 2010, then-Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi alleged that Pushkar—who was then a Dubai-based businesswoman—got sweat equity of Rs 70 crore in the new franchisee Kochi Tuskers and that her friend and then-minister of state for external affairs Tharoor was the alleged indirect beneficiary.

Pushkar surrendered the sweat equity saying in a statement that vested interests were up against her. Tharoor denied the allegation and resigned. Soon after, Modi was suspended for financial irregularities, Kochi Tuskers faded away, and in August Pushkar and Tharoor got married.

Also read: Shashi Tharoor’s shielded name of sweat equity holder: Lalit Modi

Tharoor and Pushkar got married at his ancestral home at Elavanchery village, in Palakkad, Kerala, on August 22, 2010. Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, the only politician present at the wedding, is reported to have said, “I wish Tharoor stays in headlines, but for the right reasons. My wedding gift to Tharoor would be to take away his Twitter” referring to his controversial tweets.

Cracks develop in marriage

The couple enjoyed a short period of marital bliss. Pushkar played the charming hostess at the launch of Tharoor’s book Pax Indica at a five-star hotel in New Delhi.

Pushkar also hosted Amish Tripathi, the author of The Immortals Of Meluha, and other important people, like former Trinamool Congress leader and Railway minister Dinesh Trivedi. At the end of the evening, Tharoor asked the guests to stay back as his wife had prepared a Kashmiri dinner. Meanwhile, Tharoor rejoined the Manmohan Singh government as a minister of state for human resources development.

However, cracks developed in their marriage soon. Before her tragic end, Pushkar blamed herself for the sweat equity controversy and wanted to speak out. She was also upset about Tharoor’s alleged affair with Tarar.

Also read: A Timeline Of The Ugly Twitter Scandal That Ended With The Death Of An Indian Minister’s Wife

The spat between the couple went public much to the embarrassment of friends when they were seen arguing inside an aircraft. It all ended in the hotel suite in January 2014. Pushkar collapsed after taking an overdose of prescription drug Alprax, according to the autopsy report.

The news spread like wildfire. Tharoor rushed back from a Cabinet meeting. It was the stuff of celebrity scandal. Pushkar was a beautiful woman and Tharoor was a smart diplomat with a reputation for charming women. People believed in the alleged relationship with Tarar without asking too many questions.

What made the last days of the marriage acrimonious was Pushkar’s rage of a wronged woman whose fury knew no bounds. She confided in several of her friends, including many journalists, about Tharoor’s ‘unforgivable acts of betrayal’.

Pushkar’s death evoked more curiosity than sympathy with people eager to know the details of what seemed to be a broken marriage. There was plenty of speculation but not too many facts.

In the years after Pushkar’s death, the police investigation dragged on interminably and with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government showing a keen interest in the case. The investigation hung like the sword of Damocles over Tharoor with rumours that he might join the BJP to end the probe. But Tharoor hung on.

(Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr. is a senior Delhi-based journalist, political commentator, and author of several books. The views expressed are personal.)

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