Even in her death, Sunanda Pushkar remains larger than life.
A year after the 52-year-old Pushkar, the beautiful and glamorous wife of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, was found dead in her room in a luxury hotel here, a host of questions regarding her death remain and her name and photograph continue to be splashed in newspapers and on television – even though the police pronounced it a murder only on New Year’s Day.
Were relations between Tharoor and Pushkar strained? What were the circumstances under which Pushkar acquired Rs.700 million ($11 million) sweat equity in a sports management company that bid in 2010 for IPL team Kochi Tuskers Kerala from Tharoor’s home state?
It was this controversy that led to Tharoor quitting as the junior HRD minister in the previous Manmohan Singh government. What was the relationship between Tharoor and Meher Tarar, a Pakistani socialite, as apparently revealed in a series of tweets two days before Pushkar’s death?
With insinuations flying thick and fast, and a section of the media indulging in tendentious reporting, three key witnesses – Tharoor’s assistant R.K. Sharma, the couple’s domestic help Narayan Singh, and their friend Sanjay Dewan – have issued vaguely discrepant statements that have raised more questions than they have answered.
For one, while all have said that Pushkar was in an “unresponsive stupor” for at least four hours before she was declared dead, there are different accounts of who exactly noticed the fact first.
Narayan says Sharma and he arrived at the Leela Palace, where the couple was staying, late on the afternoon of Jan 17, 2014 to find Pushkar sleeping.
“I tried for 10 minutes to wake her up,” he said. “When she didn’t respond, Rakesh sahab (Sharma) asked me to let her sleep,” said Narayan, whose statement was accessed.
By Sharma’s account, he arrived at the south Delhi hotel around 4.30 p.m. and was informed by the couple’s driver Bajrangi and Narayan that “Madam is asleep”.
His testimony is devoid of any mention about efforts to wake her up before Tharoor’s arrival later that evening.
Another suspicious observation lies in the fact that none of the three raised an alarm about Pushkar being unresponsive despite Tharoor’s categorical admission in his testimony that his wife was a light sleeper.
In the light of this, Tharoor might find it hard to explain why he waited at least half hour before trying to wake up his wife despite being informed about her condition.
According to Narayan and Sharma, Tharoor arrived at the hotel around 7.30 p.m. but entered Pushkar’s room around 8.20 p.m.
Police found two empty 15-pill strips of anti-anxiety drug Alprax on the crime scene.
But the AIIMS medical board, in its report of September, concluded that no traces of the medicine were found in her body.
So what exactly happened in the hours before Pushkar’s death?
Police claimed they filed the FIR Jan 1 on the basis of a final medical report submitted to them by AIIMS Dec 29, suggesting her death was caused by poisoning.
The latest autopsy report ruled out Pushkar’s death as natural and confirmed the cause as “oral or via injection” poisoning.
The three-page FIR, a copy of which IANS has accessed, suggests that circumstantial evidence points to “poisoning” by alprazolam, an anti-depressant, as the cause of death.
But then, Alprax and Alprazolam are one and the same thing – the former a tablet and the latter the substance out of which it is made.
In a related development, Delhi Police will send Pushkar’s medical reports and viscera samples to a forensic laboratory in London. Where is the need for this if it has been conclusively established that her death was caused by poisoning?
Also, why did the police not provide an inventory of articles found at the crime scene to the AIIMS team, as mentioned in its latest report?
“Inventory of the articles found at the crime scene has neither been placed on record nor handed over to the board. We have been asking for it. It needs to be placed before the board,” said the report, a copy of which was accessed.
Delhi Police Commissioner B.S. Bassi told the media about lodging the FIR a week after it was registered, adding an SIT was probing the case to unravel the exact sequence of events that may have occurred hours before Pushkar’s death.
Delhi Police say Tharoor may be questioned. They want to first examine the other people related to the case and look into available evidence, said an officer.
On his part, Tharoor, now a Congress MP from Kerala, has accused a section of the media of defaming him. Pushakar’s own family does not seem to suspect any foul play. And Tharoor has also accused Delhi Police of trying to frame him in the death by torturing his help Narayan Singh.