The enigma that surrounds Sunanda Pushkar's death

The case has been dogged by controversy from day one

The enigma that surrounds Sunanda Pushkar's death

The Delhi Police’s decision to treat Sunanda Pushkar’s death as a case of murder adds another sensational twist to the high-profile case.

Apart from the Delhi Police, the probe into the 2014 death of the 49-year-old Indo-Canadian businessperson and former Union minister Shashi Tharoor's wife, has been conducted by the AIIMS, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and a sub-divisional magistrate (SDM).

But even after almost a year, the sequence of events leading to the death in south Delhi’s Leela Palace hotel continues to be a mystery. Sunanda was found dead in the five-star hotel’s suite number 345 by Tharoor a day after her very public Twitter spat with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar over the latter's alleged affair with Tharoor.

He had returned to the hotel at around 8:30 pm on January 17 last year after attending an All India Congress Committee session at central Delhi’s Talkatora Stadium.
The couple was staying in the hotel due to renovation work at their house in south Delhi’s Lodhi Estate.

Veteran journalist Nalini Singh had told the SDM that Sunanda had been “distraught” and was “crying” when they spoke over the phone early on January 17 morning. Nalini said Sunanda sounded disturbed, and they discussed about Tharoor and Tarar. Sunanda’s body was found on the bed, but there was no visible sign of foul play or struggle in the room. Her limbs had stiffened.

Investigation in the case was also handed over to the Delhi Police’s Crime Branch on January 23. However, it was transferred back to the south district police two days later. The post-mortem was conducted on January 18 by a three-member team headed by AIIMS’ Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology chief Professor Dr Sudhir Kumar Gupta. Biological specimens were also retrieved for toxicological analyses and visco-pathological examination. They were sent to the CBI’s Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL).

The post-mortem report said Sunanda’s death had occurred due to a drug overdose. It was also said that traces of antidepressant tablet alprazolam or alprax were found.
Since Sunanda and Tharoor were married for less than seven years, the police had also referred the matter to the SDM's office to conduct an inquest. Apart from the statement of Sunanda’s family members, friends and the hotel staff, the SDM inquest findings were based on the post-mortem and police reports.

The inquest had also said the cause of death as drug-poisoning due to alprazolam overdose. All the injury marks were attributed to a “blunt force” of simple nature, and not contributing to her death.

However, in March, the CFSL report said there was no sign of poison in Sunanda’s body, contradicting the AIIMS report as well as the SDM inquest. The cause of death was not ascertained. However, a source had revealed that there was an injection puncture between two fingers of Sunanda, which looked like “the work of an amateur”.

In July, Dr Gupta kicked up a row by claiming in a letter addressed to the Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) that he was being pressured to alter the post-mortem report. He pointed fingers at Tharoor and former Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Last January, Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences Vice-Chairman Dr Govindan Vijayaraghavan had also claimed that Sunanda had no life-threatening disease.
She was admitted to the hospital after being diagnosed with stomach tuberculosis on January 12, and discharged on January 14.

“She attended a function after being discharged from hospital. Tharoor was with her,” Vijayaraghavan had said.

Sunanda was expected to return to the hospital in Thiruvananthapuram for a review on January 20.

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