After years-long arguments and counterarguments, Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor was finally cleared of all charges in connection with the Sunanda Pushkar death case on August 18, 2021. Passing the order through a virtual hearing, Special Judge Geetanjali Goel noted that the prosecution has failed to conclusively establish the cause of Pushkar’s death or Tharoor’s connection to it.
Shashi Tharoor, who was the prime suspect in the high-profile case, had been charged by the Delhi Police under Sections 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. Public prosecutor Atul Srivastava had argued that Sunanda Pushkar was subject to mental cruelty, leading to her poor health condition. He had further stated that the death of Pushkar was not accidental and cited her postmortem report suggesting poisoning, either oral or injected, as the cause of death.
However, Tharoor’s defence counsel, senior advocate Vikas Pahwa argued that the prosecutors are unable to establish any connection of the senior Congress leader with the death of his wife, and that the idea of poisoning is baseless and cannot be admissible. Pahwa further presented the statement of Sunanda’s son, who said, “In the Mortuary of AIIMS, I asked the doctor who conducted the postmortem about the case of death, he responded that there is no foul play or poisoning but the same doctor later went into media and said the death is due to poisoning. Shashi can’t harm even a fly.”
Thereafter, after years-long investigation, trials, twists and turns, the verdict was passed in favour of Shashi Tharoor, who took to Twitter and described the row as “seven and a half years of absolute torture”. In the statement shared on Twitter, Tharoor appreciated the court’s verdict and said, “This brings a significant conclusion to the long nightmare which had enveloped me after the tragic passing of my late wife Sunanda. I have weathered dozens of unfounded accusations and media vilification patiently, sustained my faith in the judiciary, which today stands vindicated.”
The Sunanda Pushkar death case concluded after more than seven years of creating sensational news, including the prosecutor asking the court to charge Tharoor for murder, and alleging that the Special Investigation Team’s forensic report was incorrect.
Here is a brief look at the timeline on how the case unfolded:
January 17, 2014: Sunanda Pushkar was found dead in a suite of the Leela Palace hotel in Chanakyapuri, Delhi – a day after her infamous Twitter feud with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar, in which Pushkar accused Tarar of having an affair with Shashi Tharoor. Reportedly, Tharoor discovered the body and informed the Delhi Police. The initial report suggested that Pushkar had committed suicide, but things got complicated in later stages of the investigation. Doctors of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) presented a preliminary autopsy report revealing injury marks on Sunanda Pushkar’s body, which was conclusively not proven to be the cause of death. The autopsy report also indicated drug overdose resulting in poisoning, and the Sub-Divisional Magistrate ordered investigation into the cause of poisoning and whether it was a suicide or murder.
July 1, 2014: AIIMS’ Dr Sudhir Gupta claimed that he was pressurised to produce a false report in the case.
October 10, 2014: The medical team probing the death of Sunanda Pushkar, concluded that the cause of death was poisoning.
January 6, 2015: The Delhi Police filed an FIR against unknown persons, stating that Sunanda Pushkar’s death was a murder and not suicide. Pushkar’s domestic help gave a statement to the police alleging that Pushkar and Tharoor had frequent fights, and that Pushkar had threatened to expose Tharoor.
May 20, 2015: Delhi Police got the court’s nod to conduct a lie detector test on three key suspects in the case.
May 2018: Tharoor was charged by the Delhi Police under Sections 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) and Section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.
August 20, 2019: The first hearing of the case took place at the Rouse Avenue court, where the prosecution argued, “while post-mortem opined the cause of death was poisoning, there were 15 ante mortem injuries which were 12 hours to four days old and produced in a scuffle.”
August 31, 2019: Delhi Police pleaded to the court to prosecute Tharoor for abetment to suicide or “alternatively” frame murder charges.
October 17, 2019: Tharoor’s defence counsel, in his rebuttal, argued that the prosecution has no concrete evidence to suggest the cause of death.
January 30, 2020: The court dismissed Tharoor’s plea to bring Sunanda Pushkar’s tweets on record to prove her state of mind before death. The court observed, “[he] cannot insist on a direction to the prosecution to first obtain the document and then supply it to him when the documents are in the public domain.”
March 30, 2021: Sunanda Pushkar’s son’s statement was produced to the court, in which details on Pushkar and Tharoor’s relationship, difficulties faced by them, and other details were unveiled.
April 20, 2021: The prosecution alleged that the report from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) was not correct, to which Tharoor’s counsel rebutted stating that the prosecutor has made “an irresponsible statement by claiming that the CFSL report was not right. He is doubting his own CFSL report”.
August 18, 2021: Special Judge Geetanjali Goel freed Tharoor of all charges against him relating to the Sunanda Pushkar death case