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Sunanda Pushkar's death expected to scar Shashi Tharoor's career

Monday, 20 January 2014 - 2:45pm IST Updated: Monday, 20 January 2014 - 2:52pm IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
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Following the death of Sunanda Pushkar, the Congress has said that it will wait for the outcome of a magisterial probe before commenting or acting on Shashi Tharoor. Pushkar’s death, however, is expected to have a political implication on the career of her husband and union minister of state (MoS), Tharoor.

Pushkar was found dead in bed at an upscale hotel in the capital on Friday, a day after she had a Twitter spat with a Pakistani journalist, whom she accused of stalking Tharoor and being an ISI agent. Doctors described Pushkar’s death as “sudden” and “unnatural”.

Notwithstanding the fact that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed grief with Tharoor, the party’s official stance is to wait for investigations to be completed before deciding Tharoor’s political future. “Our party has always stood for allowing free and fair investigations. Our chief ministers and ministers have resigned wherever charge sheets have been filed against them. We stand by these values,” said Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh.

Tharoor has been on the spot twice earlier, and on one occasion had to lose his ministership. Tharoor’s political career appeared appeared to be heading for a curtain call in 2010 when he embarrassed the party with his alleged “misuse” of authority for “securing” sweat equity for Pushkar in the Kochi IPL. He was dropped from the council of ministers but made a comeback two years later as a MoS in the human resource development ministry.

At other times, Tharoor has created hiccups for the Congress with his insensitive remarks, such as not being the one to travel “cattle class” and for his Twitter messages. He has remained in the reckoning because of support from Sonia and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who see in his elite and intellectual persona, an ideal person to entice the middle-class and youth towards the Congress. Author of 11 books, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and described as a ‘Global Leader of Tomorrow’ to him by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1998, Tharoor’s suave and charm are considered to be assets in the party.

In Congress circles in Kerala, however, Tharoor has faced flak for staying in five-star hotels, even in the wake of express party orders to maintain austerity. Kerala Congress leaders now say that even if Tharoor emerges unscathed (after Pushkar’s death) and gets a ticket to contest the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat, his socialite persona and five-star culture will be exploited by both the Left and the BJP. “Can the high command take the risk of fielding him in an election where winning every seat is crucial to us?” asked a party office-bearer.

They confide that although the former UN diplomat has an easy access to 10-Janpath, he has rarely visited the party’s headquarters at 24-Akbar Road, and maintains no link with ground realities. In the 2009 general election too, Tharoor was viewed as a high command nominee, but was able to win the election by a margin of 1 lakh votes due to an anti-incumbency factor against the then Left Front government.

Controversies, ranging from IPL and Twitter to his domestic battle being fought in the public domain, have lead to murmurs in the Congress to distance the party from the urbane and “five-star leader” lest it affect the party’s base among lower class. “The Indian public usually does not vote based on a leader’s personal and domestic issues. But of late, with the numbers of middle-class swelling and the 24/7 media racing to play up such things, the affect on the party ahead of general elections will be considerable,” a senior Congress leader told dna on condition of anonymity. The leader supported Tharoor for demanding a quick and fair investigation to clear the air.

The BJP and the Left too have demanded a thorough probe into Sunanda’s death. Pushkar’s relatives — first cousin Sanjay Pandita and his wife Anu — have demanded a CBI probe into her death.

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