It seems difficult in this age of documentation, invasive media and transparency, yet it still happens. Somehow, a romance that was in the headlines from day one managed to end in the murkiest circumstance. A few months later, we still don’t know what has actually happened. Sunanda Pushkar’s death is the perfect example of this.

Pushkar, a businesswoman who was married to Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, was found dead on 17 January in their hotel room at the Leela, in New Delhi. Only a day earlier, she had used Tharoor’s Twitter account to post messages from a Pakistan journalist who Pushkar claimed had been “stalking” her husband. As a result, initial reports suggested she had committed suicide.

Things would have ended there, but details soon began to emerge that suggested that this was not a straightforward death, extending even to a matter of public interest.

Yesterday, the Health Ministry stepped in to probe allegations that there was pressure on doctors to report on the death in a certain way. It is unlikely anyone can expect closure on the matter anytime soon.

Twitter controversy

Two days before Pushkar was found dead in Delhi’s Hotel Leela she was already all over the news, after posting tweets on Tharoor’s popular Twitter account that she claimed were messages sent by Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar to the Congress leader. “She is stalking my husband. And you know how men are. He is flattered by the attention,” Pushkar told the Economic Times that day. “I took upon myself the crimes of this man during IPL [Indian Premier League]. I will not allow this to be done to me. I just can’t tolerate this. I have nothing more to say.”

Tharoor had initially tried to pass off the matter by saying his Twitter account had been hacked, but Pushkar’s clarification revealed that to be a lie. Meanwhile, Tarar took to Twitter to question what Pushkar was saying, posting: “so I 'stalk' on bbm and phone. The last I checked it was a two-way thing, or maybe technology changed while I 'stalked'?”

The couple then tried to clear the air with a joint statement saying they were happily married. “Sunanda has been ill and hospitalised this week and is seeking to rest,” the statement said. “We would be grateful if the media respects our privacy.” A day later, Pushkar was dead.

Bruise marks

The medical report that was inevitably leaked soon after Pushkar died pointed to a number of bruises on her body, while the three-member autopsy team concluded that it was a case of “sudden unnatural death”. Pushkar’s friends and aides would explain the marks on her body by saying that she suffered from lupus, a debilitating autoimmune disease which meant she bruised easily. The report also suggested that Pushkar had died because of a drug overdose, possibly mixing sedatives and alcohol.

The state-run Central Forensic Science Laboratory, meanwhile, conducted its own viscera and toxicology tests and ended up concluding that the death was natural. It suggested that the stroke might have been caused by a cardiac arrest that would have been the result of a stressful lifestyle. Delhi Police have since referred samples to a third lab.

Right-wing conjecture

Tharoor has been the target of right-wing and online criticism before, not just because he is a Congress leader, but also because of his international connections as well as his involvement in an Indian Premier League corruption scandal a few years ago.

Which brings us to Subramanian Swamy. The Bharatiya Janata Party leader, a kind of lightning rod of the online right-wing brigade, has been quick to make insinuations. Earlier this week, Swamy insisted that Pushkar had been killed “in a professional way.” His declaration is consistent with the chatter across saffron-leaning message-boards and Twitter accounts.

Few believe that it was suicide and overdose, with most preferring to claim that Tharoor – who first chanced upon the body himself, along with two aides – was somehow implicated in her death. Swamy has claimed Russian poison was involved.

AIIMS, set, go

While the Delhi Police continued to investigate the case, it dropped out of the headlines together. Until two days ago, that is. On Monday, reports emerged that Dr Sudhir Gupta – who heads All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ forensics team – had claimed that a ministerial colleague of Tharoor had gotten in touch as he was doing his autopsy. Gupta claimed he was put under pressure to provide the boilerplate answer. Gupta claims he stood his ground and insisted that he would not file a report claiming that the death had been natural, with the doctor even sending a letter to the Health Minister about this.

The current Health Minister, Dr Harshvardhan, has stepped in and asked AIIMS to file a report on the matter. But Gupta’s decision to go public now is complicated, primarily because of how much he stands to gain. His message as well as affidavit to the Central Administration insisted that he had gone public now because he had to document the Congress’ bullying.

By his own admission, the matter has come up because Gupta is in the midst of a process that would see him extended as head of the forensics department at AIIMS. A new director had taken charge of the institute recently, and Gupta claims that his tenure is not being extended as head of his department because he refused to accede to Congress demands to call Pushkar’s death “natural.” He added that this happened by way of several threatening emails from both Tharoor and health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Now, with Harshvardhan overseeing the affair, one could expect some forward movement on the case. Anyone expecting it to be brought to closure, however, has another think coming.