SUNANDA PUSHKAR MURDER CASE: A BRIEF STUDY By Abhishek Naharia from RGNUL, Patiala
Introduction: Born on 27th June, 1962 in a Kashmiri Pandit family, Sunanda Pushkar was brought up nicely in the family of army officers and landlords in Bomai.[i] Her father Lt. Col P.K. Dass retired in 1983, and 7 years hence in 1990, they moved to Jammu after their house was set fire by Muslim militants.[ii] She graduated from Govt. Women’s College, Srinagar in 1986-66. Starting her career as the front desk receptionist at Centaur lake View Hotel, Srinagar she went on to become one of the most successful businesswomen. She was the sales director in Dubai based TELECOM Investments and co-owner of India based Rendezvous Sports World.[iii] She developed her career in Dubai slowly and gradually after having a son with her second husband Sujith. After Sujith’s death, she went on to join a retail business, and in need of better healthcare system for her son, shifted to Canada.[iv] She went on to marry Shashi Tharoor after he was elected Member of Parliament in 2010.
Twitter Battle: It was claimed that she had equity of 700 million in Rendezvous Sports World.[v] She was subsequently made the Director of the Company 18 days before the IPL bid. In consequence to this, there were allegations made that Shashi Tharoor had misused his ministerial position in gaining an advantage of his position. This was followed by Tharoor resigning the ministerial position he held.[vi] The heated Twitter controversy erupted on 15th January, 2014, when a Pak Journalist Mehar Tarar posted intimate messages on Tharoor’s twitter account. Tarar said in her defence that the account had been hacked by someone, but Sunanda taking her chance hopped upon Tarar as she claimed Tarar to be an ISI agent. The very next day, a joint statement of her and Tharoor’s went on twitter displaying their happy marriage. Further it was said, that she was being hospitalized and Tharoor was being treated for health issues.[vii]
The Murder: She was found dead at her flat the very next day, Room number 345 of Leela Palace Hotel, Chanakayapuri, Delhi. It was claimed by Tharoor the next day that they had recently shifted to the hotel as the earlier one was being renovated, and he discovered her body when she did not wake up the next morning after having slept early in the evening.
The Controversy: On the day of her cremation, the first report by AIIMS doctors stated that there were certain injury marks on her body which may or may not be related to her death. Furthermore, they refused to provide any such information as to the nature of the injuries. Sudhir Kumar Gupta, Head of AIIMS dept. of forensic medicine headed the post mortem. Though the thorough investigation had not been conducted at that moment, the doctor promised the same to be conducted soon.[viii] The doctors also used repeatedly the phrase, “death caused due to unnatural death”, although they were not sure whether death was caused by drug overdose or not.[ix] At the same time, Tharoor was shifted from ICU to general ward after his condition seemed to be normal. Six days prior to her death, he had complained of uneasiness and chest pain. The Sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) Alok Sharma had asked the police to find out the cause of death, and it was found that she had died due to poisoning as per an AIIMS report, though the SDM refused to reveal the details of the report, stating that they were sealed. “The huge quantity of consumption of such drug may affect functioning of the brain and lead to a comatose situation, the SDM exclaimed.”[x] This was shocking to the people of Thiruvananthapuram from where the MP belonged. All of a sudden the controversy over her death caught fire when in July 2014; the Head of Forensic Dept. AIIMS exclaimed that he had woven this report under pressure.[xi] In October 2014, concluding, a team of doctors found alcohol, caffeine, acetaminophen and cotinine in Sunanda’s body. The legal point to be discussed here was that despite 7 months of her death as of October 2014, the Police had filed no FIR in relation to the case. Police just kept on saying that the case had been invested through inquest proceedings and that it was prima facie a matter of unnatural death. The probe conducted by the doctors earlier had also said that they had found 15 marks on her body in the autopsy and that the 10th mark was of a needle syringe, which at the first place meant the injection of drugs into the body.[xii]
In 2015 in a sudden furor, the Delhi police said that she had been murdered by poison as her death was not a natural one. Delhi Police Chief B S Bassi confirmed that she had been poisoned, given orally or injected which is being investigated as of now.[xiii] The first autopsy report submitted to a magistrate on Jan 20, 2015 had said that she had died because of drug overdose, also reporting a dozen injury marks on her body. As said earlier, AIIMS forensic head had said that he was pressurized, wherein AIIMS denied the report and he was removed from his post.
Major Twists And Turns: In major rows of twists and turns throughout the 4-year legal battle, Shashi Tharoor in a statement has said in May that he was falsely fabricated into the matter and that he was not at all involved anywhere in his wife’s demise. One Narayan had also intervened in the investigation in 2015 that was to have helped Sunanda in copying and posting some tweets. He was very close to the couple, and as a result, his statement that the couple very often got into verbal tussles was taken seriously by the police.[xiv] The Delhi police in a statement as on last week of January had said that there were inconclusive reports being provided by the Hospital. In a recent move in the case, Tharoor’s stepson Menon has moved against BJP MP Subramaniam Swamy’s plea. Through Senior Advocate Vikas Pahwa, Menon claims that the BJP MP Swamy has no locus standi in the case as per no involvement. He has also claimed that the Court may pass orders restraining Swamy and his lawyers on posting disreputable comments on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.[xv] Swamy in his petition had claimed that the matter needs to be taken into consideration as it is of national and international interest as the victim was about to have leaked the minute details of the alleged corruption in IPL. The plea filed by Swami had sought investigation of CBI into the case by forming SIT teams with IB, R&AW and Delhi police into the matter. [xvi]
Conclusion: There are many reasons that the case must be dealt with utter strictness, one being that the Delhi Police did not handle the case with due diligence. Despite having evidence in hand at many points in the investigation, the police did not close the investigation with proper reports; rather whispers were across that the investigation had been softened many times.[xvii] Secondly, there have been quite a number of political interventions, and they have taken the case far away from the hands of police. Thirdly, there needs to be a stricter probe in the name of justice as every person who feels that he is getting dragged into the case must be released post investigation. Further, the case must be disposed of as soon as possible by the concerned authorities as it has already been pending since 2014, hence should be ensured a speedy trial.
[i] Kashmir Valley netizens to India Pak role in Sunanda Pushkar’s death, India today.
[ii] R.I.P. Sunanda Pushkar; her life in pictures, IBN Live.
[iii] Jammu to Dubai to Delhi; who is Sunanda Pushkar whose stake is worth Rs .70 crore, Indian Express.
[iv] Suddenly Sunanda, The Indian Express, (October 2010).
[v] Sunanda continues to hold 19% stake in Rendezvous, TOI.
[vi] Joint statement by Sunanda and Tharoor, Facebook.
[vii] Sunanda says she posted messages of Mehr on his twitter handle, K K Srujith, (Jan 16, 2014).
[viii] Sunanda died an unnatural death, says AIIMS doctor, Hindustan Times.
[ix] Drug overdose may have killed Sunanda, says SDM, TOI.
[x] Sunanda dies of poisoning, IANS.
[xi] Sunanda Pushkar death case; doctor accuses Tharoor and Azad of influencing report, Patrika Group.
[xii] Sunanda did not have serious health problems; claim doctors, TOI.
[xiii] Sunanda Pushkar was murdered; Delhi Police, TOI.
[xiv] Sunanda Pushkar had a visitor Sunil Sahab at hotel 2 days before death; TOI.
[xv] Sunanda Pushkar’s son moves HC, question Swamy’s locus standi, Economic times.
[xvi] Sunanda Pushkar murder case, Daily pioneer.
[xvii] Sunanda Pushkar Case, daily pioneer, (May 31, 2017).
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