Indian minister’s wife found dead after Twitter adultery scandal

Sunanda Pushkar's body found in New Delhi hotel room two days after claims of adultery against her husband, India's human resources minister Shashi Tharoor.

India's minister of state for human resources Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar at their wedding in Dubai in August 2010. Jaime Puebla / The National
Powered by automated translation

NEW DELHI // The wife of prominent Indian minister Shashi Tharoor was found dead on Friday in a five-star hotel room after she exposed his alleged adultery with a Pakistani journalist on Twitter.

The minister’s private secretary, Abhinav Kumar, said that Mr Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar, 52, had been staying at the luxury hotel since Thursday as painting work was being done at their home.

The minister had been away during the day at a conference, Mr Kumar said.

When he returned in the evening, he found the door of Pushkar’s suite locked from the inside.

“She seemed to be sleeping in a normal way but later it was found she was dead,” he said.

Mr Kumar said there was “no sign of foul play”, adding: “The cause of death and the time of death, we cannot say now.”

Pushkar’s death came a day after Mr Tharoor issued what he said was a joint statement from the couple saying they were “happily married and intend to remain that way”.

The statement added that “Sunanda has been ill and hospitalised this week and is seeking to rest” and asked for the media to respect the couple’s privacy.

The alleged affair surfaced late on Wednesday when a curious series of messages appeared on the Twitter account of the suave thrice-married human resources minister, seen by his two million followers.

They showed private exchanges purportedly between the 57-year-old, whose Twitter handle is @shashitharoor, and the Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar – @mehrtarar – in which she professed her love for him and he said his wife had discovered his affair.

Mr Tharoor quickly responded by saying his Twitter account had been hacked, but his wife told two newspapers that she was the author of the messages.

“Our accounts have not been hacked and I have been sending out these tweets,” Sunanda told the Economic Times, adding to the Indian Express that she “100 per cent” stood by the messages.

The Pakistani journalist strongly denied having an affair with the former high-flying UN diplomat.

Reacting to Pushkar’s death, Ms Tarar tweeted: “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.”

Mr Tharoor is a former diplomat who spent three decades in the United Nations and was beaten to the post of secretary general of the organisation by incumbent Ban Ki-moon.

The famed author and talented public speaker quit the UN after this defeat and entered Indian politics in 2008 as a ruling party MP from a safe seat in southern Kerala state.

In his statement on Thursday, Mr Tharoor said he and his wife were “distressed” by the controversy created by “unauthorised tweets” and denounced “distorted accounts of comments allegedly made by Sunanda in the press”.

Mr Tharoor had to resign from his first ministerial post after revelations that Sunanda, formerly a Dubai-based businesswoman who was his girlfrind at the time, had been given a free stake in a new cricket team in the Indian Premier League.

Opposition parties said the stake, reportedly worth up to $15 million (Dh55m), was for Mr Tharoor’s behind-the-scenes services in putting together a consortium that bought a franchise in his home state of Kerala.

Both had denied any wrongdoing

* Agence France-Presse