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8-min read

The Sunanda Tharoor case: Trial by the media?

Dispensation of justice is a function of the courts and the legal system.

Shehzad Poonawalla | IBNLive Specials

Updated:October 11, 2014, 3:26 PM IST
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The Sunanda Tharoor case: Trial by the media?
Dispensation of justice is a function of the courts and the legal system.
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New Delh: I write this piece as a very concerned citizen of India. Dispensation of justice is a function of the courts and the legal system. But what happens when (some not all ) TV news channels, ignore easily verifiable records, spin and twist facts to suit their narrative and dish out half-truths and absolute lies, while holding their prime time inquisition, usually with a bunch of guests who know nothing about the facts of a given case, to hang an innocent man, by the nearest lamp-post, merely because it suits their petty TRP battle of gaining most eyeballs (or some covert agenda), even at the cost of saying the most outrageous things.

I have no hesitation in saying that Shashi Tharoor is the victim of one such trial that has now gone on for far too long. Let us first of all recount the FACTS of Sunanda Tharoor's unfortunate death calmly and in its entirety. And before we ourselves turn into "arm-chair judges" let us remember that in our legal jurisprudence even an accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. After months of an intensive inquiry, Shashi Tharoor, a grieving husband who lost the love of his life, is not even a suspect, leave alone being an accused, in the eyes of the law and the investigative agencies. But for some reason perhaps as shallow as voyeurism and gossip, we ignore that he too is human, one that feels pained about the loss of his wife!

So here are some facts TV panelists, spokespersons of parties and editors of TV channels who, riding on this moralistic position that they are "crusading for justice for Sunanda" mislead you about:

Myth No.1: Shaina NC of the BJP on a TV channel says there has been no enquiry in the Sunanda matter for the last ten months.

Fact: Shaina forgets that off these ten odd months of alleged "no enquiry", for the last four months its her government under the BJP to which the Delhi Police has been reporting to! Is she implying that Delhi Police is being goaded by her party's senior most minister Rajnath Singh, incharge of Home Affairs, to go slow on an opposition MP Shashi Tharoor? What surprises me even more is the sheer ignorance of people like Shaina who don't know basic law. A death of a woman within seven years of marriage automatically, by law, mandates and triggers a probe not just by the police but under the superintendence of a Magistrate. In this case too, an SDM is overseeing the probe and despite the thorough enquiry by him, the Delhi Police, that too under the current government, there was not enough merit to make Tharoor a suspect! Is Shaina NC implying that Rajnath Singh, the SDM and the Delhi Police have been compromised by Shashi Tharoor?

Myth No.2: Sunanda Tharoor was poisoned. The AIIMS report confirms that doesn't it?

Fact: The Delhi Police, with no less than the Police Commissioner B S Bassi, came out to clarify just on Friday, that there was no conclusive report to suggest that Sunanda was poisoned. Again, nobody can argue, as they could have during the UPA government's tenure, that Bassi is being "pressured". Now, here is something interesting that TV channels are not telling you. The toxicology report by CFSL, the most premier government-run forensics lab, conclusively ruled out poisoning. Curiously, this report is not being leaked by anyone since it does not suit the agenda.

TV channels are also not telling you that the report, which is being flogged now, is by the same doctor Sudhir Gupta, who made the initial inconclusive Post Mortem report and this old report is being "peddled" as a "new report" whereas the fact is that Dr. Gupta (along with his two juniors from his own department) has simply repeated the same line of death by poison which hasn't been able to be substantiated by the toxicology report by CFSL.

Why does the media fail to see that in the subsequent report Dr. Gupta fails to provide any proof for his poison theory? The only four elements identified to substantiate the poisoning theory are all NOT poisons but commonly-available over-the-counter substances Sunanda used regularly: alcohol, acetaminophen (aka paracetamol, which along with aspirin and caffeine are ingredients of Excedrin that Sunanda took daily for over 15 years for her migraines), and cotinine (aka nicotine, from her smoking)! Why did the media irresponsibly report these items as if they are poisons when they are not?

Since there is no material evidence to substantiate poisoning, on what basis is Dr.Gupta repeating this claim? Isn't his attempt only to defend his earlier observation in the Post Mortem report, which has been questioned by CFSL report?

Myth No.3: Shashi Tharoor and the UPA government pressurized Dr. Sudhir Gupta.

Fact: AIIMS, the hospital for which Dr. Gupta works, did a press conference on 2nd July 2014 ( note the date) and rejected these allegations. Dr. Harsh Vardhan of the BJP is and was the Health Minister and President of the AIIMS since the new government took over. Are people now suggesting that Tharoor can pressure the Delhi Police under Rajnath Singh and the AIIMS under Harsh Vardhan after being an ordinary MP of a party in opposition? Or is it the case of the media that Rajnath Singh and Harsh Vardhan, senior ministers of the BJP, are trying to obfuscate the truth and save Shashi Tharoor?

The media also ignored the fact that Dr. Gupta is the doctor who, while facing internal disciplinary action for plagiarism and incompetence, has raised unsubstantiated allegations of pressure on him in this case and thus has become a party with a vested interest to defend his earlier stand on this matter.

Dr. Harsh Vardhan in his public statement too, had said that Dr. Gupta's case was not of pressure or influence but relating to his promotion. Such a person is being passed off as a whistle-blower!

Myth No.4: Subramanian Swamy has all the facts about how there was an international conspiracy to eliminate Sunanda and top Congress leaders are involved

Fact: If Dr. Swamy as an individual has so many clinching proofs and evidences, why did he not take it up with his own colleagues Dr Harsh Vardhan and Rajnath Singh? Or do they not take him seriously? Or is he just trying to gain cheap political capital on an issue as unfortunate as this? Swamy keeps saying "I have spoken to my source and that source has all the evidence. But I won't name the source". Okay. Did his source go to the SDM and Delhi Police and get his/her statement recorded? By the way, every aspect which is being pushed as "new twist in Sunanda case" is before the SDM, Delhi Police as on record testimonies and evidence and despite it, they have found no merit to even consider Tharoor as a suspect! Is Dr. Swamy, just like Shaina, suggesting Rajnath and Harsh Vardhan are compromising the investigations? Let him say so openly. I am as curious to know why they are defending Congress big wigs in this "murder most foul" where "Russian poison has been used" and "international agencies are involved".

Myth No.5: Subramanian Swamy is only asking for a CBI probe. Why is Shashi Tharoor not agreeing to it? Why are you dodging an enquiry?

Fact: Well Dr. Swamy one day says he wants an SIT probe. The next day he asks for a CBI probe. Tomorrow he may want Scotland Yard, FBI and CIA to probe. All of this reflects he has no faith in Rajnath Singh's Ministry of Home Affairs that overlooks Delhi Police and its probes. Also, Shashi Tharoor from day one has said "do a full, conclusive and quick probe and please end the speculation". He re-iterated it in July as well. Supporting one probe over another is not his right or privilege. Yes, but as a husband, a grieving one, he wants a full probe to be done and justice to be delivered far more earnestly than a misery-hunter like Subramanian Swamy.

Myth No.6: Swamy and Shaina NC say Sunanda was in the "pink of her health". "Many testimonies have not been considered! There were bruises, injection marks on her body as pictures of the autopsy confirms! It shows signs of struggle."

Fact: The truth is that Sunanda was hospitalized for 3 days and 2 nights at KIMS hospital in Trivandrum for undergoing various diagnostic tests just before her death, and the needle marks are due to blood samples taken while in hospital and an IV feed into her palm throughout her stay.Why does the media ignore the statement by the friend who stayed with her at the hospital that Sunanda bruised easily and that these the bruises on her body were a direct result of these hospital interventions? Why does the media ignore that no report says that the bruising was a cause of the death. All the pictures being put out are already with the Delhi Police and with the SDM. Every angle- suicide, death, murder, etc has been considered by them. They have recorded the circumstances surrounding her death too. Having done all this, there was not enough merit to make the simplistic, politically motivated conclusions that Swamy and Shaina are making.

Myth No.7: Sunanda's family suspects Shashi Tharoor!

Fact: So the media gets hold of some distant cousin of Sunanda, who during her lifetime was not in touch with her but suddenly emerged after her death, who is ready and willing for some reasons best known to himself, to oblige the media in its agenda but ignore Sunanda's immediate family- her biological son Shiv Menon, her real brother Rajesh, a Brigadier in the Army and another real brother , who in their openly pledged support for Tharoor state they find it unimaginable to think Tharoor would even be capable of hurting her leave alone killing her! So some random cousin's word counts more than Sunanda's family.

Myth No.8: We are only seeking justice for Sunanda Pushkar!

Fact: No you are NOT. If you cared about Sunanda you would not harass the day-lights out off her beloved husband Shashi Tharoor. You remember they were in LOVE? If you cared for justice, you would tell the people the full facts. If you cared, you would spare a media trial that not only seeks to hang an innocent man but does no good to the memory of a woman whose loss we feel each day. If you cared, you would remember she was Sunanda Tharoor.

(Shehzad Poonawalla is a Congress sympathizer. He is a lawyer and a political activist based in New Delhi. Views expressed here are his personal)

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