Thursday, January 23, 2014

Coverage of Sunanda Pushkar's Murder

The Press coverage of Sunanda Pushkar’s murder was pretty much obliterated on television by the Aam Admi Party’s shenanigans in New Delhi.

For the most part, the story was reduced to television crawlers highlighting a statement by the victim's 21-year old son that his mother was too strong to commit suicide and that he did not think Shashi Tharoor could have harmed her.

In print, the coverage was decidedly odd.

On 21 January, a Zee News story by Sushmita Dutta had the following lead: “Hours after the autopsy report of Sunanda Pushkar was out and given to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate Alok Sharma by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) stating drug overdose may have caused her death, Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor got a clean chit into the matter based on a witness testimony, police sources said on Monday.”

A Reuters story on the 22nd put the story in the following context: “The drama around Tharoor comes after a series of scandals that have dented the idea of a rising, confident India. The image of an economic juggernaut was undermined last year when growth fell to its lowest in a decade. Politicians have been dogged by allegations of corruption on a spectacular scale, and a grisly gang rape in Delhi at the end of 2012 that sparked huge protests has marred the "Incredible India" slogan meant to draw tourists from around the globe. Even a former Supreme Court judge has been probed over alleged sexual harassment and one of India's most powerful journalists was arrested last month in another sexual assault case.”

The story (without a byline as published), said that “Tharoor may survive politically. He has received backing from the leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and sympathy from many politicians. One TV channel called him the "Comeback Kid" for his ability to bounce back from reverses.”

Also on the 22nd, a PTI story was headlined “Shashi Tharoor inseparable, no question of resignation: Congress.” It noted earlier reports that the BJP's Kerala unit had demanded Tharoor’s resignation and that Congress ally NCP had said he should keep away from his ministerial responsibilities until the investigation was over. Congress spokesman Randip Surjewala had told reporters the NCP suggestion “could be personal opinion of NCP leader D P Tripathi. ... Tharoor is in a responsible ministerial position. He is also an inseparable part of Congress. There is no question of his resignation.”

Neither Reuters nor PTI mentioned in those stories what the Economic Times noted in the penultimate paragraph of its small take on the 22nd: that the autopsy report submitted to the investigating magistrate “mentioned more than a dozen injury marks on Pushkar's hands and a minor bruise on her left cheek which could be due to the use of ‘blunt force’". Citing “poisoning” as the cause of death, the magistrate had “asked Delhi police to further investigate the case, including the possibility of suicide and murder.”  

It seems to me the injuries sustained by the victim -- lacerations on the wrists and bruises on her upper body and neck -- are conclusive proof of murder. 

Much of the Press coverage seems to be avoiding that and looking towards a swift finding of accidental drug overdose that will allow business as usual. 

I have known Shashi since he was a child and find it hard to believe that he is capable of murder; but there is no escaping the conclusion that Sundanda Pushkar was forced to ingest the two dozen anti-depressent pills and alcohol that ended her life. 

There are two pointers for those investigating the case. 

One is the Pakistan angle -- his wife thought Tharoor had been having a "rip roaring affair" with Lahore-based journalist Mehr Tarar. Both the principals have denied this, but clearly there was some to and fro across the border. Was the murder to blot out any possibility of an embarrassing security leak? If so, the murderers would be under the authority of the Home Ministry, which is reportedly seeking to hurry the investigation to an end.

The second lead is the fact that  Sunanda Pushkar was preparing for tell-all television interviews about her involvement in the IPL scandal that led to her then boy-friend Tharoor's resignation from the External Affairs ministry. The couple had hotly denied reports they cleared some $15 million from that deal. Whose ox would have been gored if she had revealed another reality?

All this should make quite clear that the investigation into the murder cannot be rushed to a conclusion, and that an independent inquiry is essential.

Pending a resolution it is indefensible for Tharoor to continue in a position of influence in the government. 

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