Sunanda Pushkar. (Jay Mandal/On Assignment)
New Delhi, Jan. 17: Sunanda Pushkar, the wife of Union minister Shashi Tharoor, was found dead today in a five-star hotel suite that she was sharing with her husband since yesterday.
Police said the cause of the death could be established only after the post-mortem and forensic examination. The initial probe is being conducted under a section that deals with deaths in suspicious circumstances, including suicide, because the marriage is less than seven years old.
Pushkar, 52, was locked in a public spat with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar and had accused the columnist of stalking Tharoor. However, a joint statement yesterday attributed to Tharoor and Pushkar had said they were “happily married”.
Today, Pushkar was tweeting till around 5.30am when she signed off saying “LOL (laugh out loud) that would never happen” in response to a question from a follower who asked if the couple would appear on a popular chat show.
Tharoor, the minister of state for human resource development, found Pushkar lying on the bed in the suite when he returned to the hotel from the AICC session around 8.30pm, according to Abhinav Kumar, the private secretary to the minister.
“They checked into the hotel suite because the bungalow on 97 Lodhi Estate was being renovated,” the aide said. Abhinav, an IPS officer, said he had called the police.
Delhi police spokesperson Rajan Bhagat said that Pushkar’s body had been found at The Leela Palace at Chanakyapuri in south Delhi. Bhagat said there was no apparent sign that suggested the cause of death.
He said the inquiry would be conducted by the sub-divisional magistrate. “Since Pushkar wasn’t married for seven years, a magistrate has to inquire into the death under Section 176 of CrPC.”
Section 176, read with Section 174, deals with deaths in suspicious circumstances, including suicide, by a married woman who has not completed seven years of marriage. Pushkar and Tharoor had got married in August 2010.
The joint statement yesterday had said Pushkar had been ill and hospitalised this week. Tharoor had tweeted today that he was cancelling participation at a literary event because of her illness.
Sunanda had also tweeted that “got so many issues diagnosed in KIMS (a hospital in Kerala) that now who knows when I got 2 go with joy hastay huey jayengey.”
Some journalists quoted Pushkar as having told them that she was diagnosed with lupus. But the hospital said the final results were awaited.
Lupus is an auto-immune disease of unknown cause in which a mutinous immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues of the body. Patients with lupus may have joint pain and swellings, muscle pain, fatigue, and rash. A US National Institutes of Health document on lupus calls it a “serious and potentially fatal disease” that mainly affects young women. In lupus, the immune may attack a range of organs and tissues, including the joints, skin, kidneys, heart and brain.
Standard treatment for lupus involves immunosuppressive drugs to beat down the immune system. A combination cyclophosphamide and a steroid can delay or prevent life-threatening kidney damage, one of the most serious consequences of lupus.
M. Najeeb, the executive director of KIMS hospital in Thiruvananthapuram said: “Tharoor and Sunanda came to the hospital on Sunday (January 12) for medical examination. She was in the hospital till Tuesday evening. On Tuesday morning, an endoscopy was done. She was discharged by 5pm the same day and she left for Delhi on the assurance that she will return in a couple of days after the results were obtained. Sunanda had been advised that treatment will start only on the advice of the medical board after examining the test results.”
Najeeb said Tharoor stayed with Sunanda in the hospital on Sunday night. “When she left, there was no serious condition, but she was tired,” he added.
The only medicine she was given while in hospital was a drug prescribed by the rheumatologist, Najeeb said. This was prescribed for a week.
He said only the chief of the medical board would be able to comment on her health condition.
Abhinav, Tharoor’s private secretary, said the minister had left the hotel at 8am to attend the AICC session. “He returned to the suite at 8.30pm after spending the day at the conclave organised by his party. He found the bedroom closed and thought Pushkar was asleep. He knocked on the door but did not get any response and sat in the drawing room and made some phone calls. After five minutes, he asked his private assistant R.K. Sharma whether she was sleeping for long a time. Sharma told him that she had been sleeping for long.
“The minister found something amiss and called me at 8.30pm, asking me to come. I stay nearby and reached the hotel room between 8.45 and 8.55pm and informed police around 9pm. I found her lying on the bed and covered with a quilt. From what I saw, it seemed she was sleeping. There were no obvious signs of struggle and injury marks. We do not suspect any foul play,” he added.
The police arrived at the hotel at 9.25pm. The police said the door was opened using a master card and Sunanda was found lying on the bed. Abhinav said the sliding door to the bedroom was open.
Hotel doctors declared her dead. “The police are investigating whether it is a case of suicide or the death was caused by some other reason or it was a natural death,” Abhinav said.
According to him, the couple had returned from Kerala on Wednesday. “She had to be hospitalised for three days while they were there in Kerala for some ailment. The nature of ailment is not known to me,” he added. “They had some plans to go out at night.”
Tarar, the journalist, responded to news of Pushkar’s death on twitter. “I just woke up and read this. I’m absolutely shocked. This is too awful for words. So tragic I don’t know what to say. Rest in peace, Sunanda,” Tarar tweeted.
Ishaan, one of the twin sons of Shashi Tharoor and a journalist with Time magazine, asked for privacy. “I would request that everyone please respect our family’s privacy at this moment.” His brother Kanishk retweeted Ishaan’s tweets and asked for more privacy for the family. Sunanda has a 21-year-old son from an earlier marriage.