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21 January, 2014

A Twitter tragedy

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

An Indian fairy tale, which was playing out on Twitter, ended abruptly last week on a tragic note. The chief protagonists were Shashi Tharoor, India’s dashing minister of state for human resources, who had been United Nations Under Secretary General and is a successful writer, and his vivacious Kashmiri wife, Sunanda Pushkar, who had been a business woman in Dubai.

When Tharoor made a bid for the post of UN Secretary General in 2007 the Indian government backed him, even though there was little chance of the Big Five agreeing on one of its nationals. After losing to Ban Ki-moon, he quit the UN and returned to India, which he had left as a student. The Congress party welcomed him. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Kerala, his parents’ home state, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appointed him junior minister in the External Affairs Ministry.

An active Twitter user, Shashi Tharoor attracted a large following of more than two million although he himself followed fewer than 450 persons.

Tharoor ran into trouble in 2009 when he tweeted he would use “cattle class” in aircraft in solidarity with “all our holy cows”. Technology-illiterate Congressmen raised a hue and cry and a party spokesperson said, being new to politics, he was perhaps not conscious of the sensitivities of people.

The following year it came to light that a Kerala company bidding for a place in the Indian Premier League cricket, with Tharoor’s support, had given sweat equity of Rs700 million to Sunanda Pushkar, whom he was courting. Two senior ministers who looked into the allegation that she was a proxy for Tharoor concluded that his explanation was not satisfactory. He was asked to resign.

Shortly afterwards he married Sunanda Pushkar. It was the third marriage for both of them. The couple thereafter divided their time between New Delhi and Thiruvananthapuram.

When Manmohan Singh reconstituted the Cabinet in 2012 Tharoor was brought back as minister of state for Human Resources Development.

Everything appeared to be going well and he was preparing to seek re-election in the parliamentary elections due in May when all of a sudden things started falling apart.

Last Wednesday Tharoor’s followers were bombarded by a barrage of tweets purportedly sent by him to Mehr Tarar, who describes herself in her Twitter profile as a mom, former Op-Editor of the Daily Times, Pakistan, and a columnist. While they were trying to make sense out of them, Tharoor informed his account had been hacked.

Sunanda Pushkar announced that she was the one who had sent out tweets from his account. She told media persons who contacted her that the Lahore-based Mehr Tarar had been stalking her husband. Responding to a tweet from a friend, she wrote an incoherent, unpunctuated line: An Indian womans place apparently SHE is a nobody as someone said “a politician should not be married.”

Apparently she posted the tweets from Thiruvananthapuram. The next day she flew to Delhi with Tharoor. From the airport, he went home and she checked into a luxury hotel. The next evening she was found dead in her hotel bed.

“Murder by Twitter,” cried shocked users of the site. Television channels, celebrating the news, kept up a continuous flow of information, verified and unverified, throughout the weekend as the family cremated the body and the official machinery began grappling with medico-legal angles. Politicians belonging to rival formations, barring stray exceptions, began moves to cash in on the tragedy.

Under Indian law, a magisterial inquiry into the death is mandatory since the couple had been married for less than seven years. A preliminary post mortem report said death was sudden and unnatural and the body bore injury marks. The police is waiting for the final report of the surgeons and the magistrate to decide whether or not to register a case and on what charges and against whom. In a case of suicide by a married woman, the husband can attract the charge of abetment.

Twitterati can probably draw a moral from the tragedy: pouring out one’s woes in social networks does not necessarily help. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 21, 2014.

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