The volatility of ‘Sunanda Pushkar Case’

The month of January (as expected) has marked the seasonable reappearance of ‘Sunanda Case’ in the media. There’s however a great deal about Sunanda Pushkar case which doesn’t quite add up.

Investigation twists:

January 2014

The first autopsy report:  Drug overdose + dozen injury marks.

The ‘final’ version of the report submitted seven months later, raises the number of injuries from a dozen to 15.

January 2015

Exactly about a year later, the police registered a case of murder. All speculations and theories were thus put to rest. Twist: The police now claimed that Sunanda Pushkar was ‘poisoned’ and that they had relied on ‘forensic evidences’ to register the case.

The investigation was now all set to proceed in a direction. Which direction?

Note this statement from the then Commissioner of Police:
“She died due to poisoning. Whether the poison was given orally or injected into her body is being investigated.” To establish the identity of the poison, her viscera samples were to be sent abroad. New speculation: A radioactive substance was used as poison.

[Angle of investigation: ‘Given orally’ or ‘injected into her body.’ The investigators didn’t seem to consider the possibility of a theory of ‘consumption’ here. Why?]

January 2016

The FBI report ruled out radioactive poisoning. The police however maintained that the cause of death was ‘unnatural’ and that the FBI report had recorded “certain other findings.” The FBI reports were now to be analyzed by the AIIMS.

January 2017

The new medical board, now says that the cause of death remains inconclusive (this new medical board was set up in March 2016, after AIIMS failed to reach a conclusion). Dr. Sudhir Gupta is however back in the media with some misleading claims about the FBI report- quite simply packing his old wine in a new bottle. The drug in question again, is Lidocaine. Dr. Gupta being a medical practitioner would know, that lidocaine, besides being an antiarrhythmic (he is over playing its ‘fatal if overused’ nature), is also employable as a local anesthetic. Was it Alprazolam (as AIIMS had earlier claimed), Polonium (Mr. Swamy’s claim which later became a police theory, now ruled out by the FBI) or Lidocaine (some media reports claim FBI mentions this drug)?

What (or who?) makes him issue periodic statements to the media, is a different question.

The Swamy hypothesis: A curious case

The entry of Mr. Swamy, doubtlessly had marked the politicization of this case (or made the degree of politicization obvious).

The most astonishing aspect of this case is however, the striking similarity between Subramanian Swamy’s hypotheses and statements from the police. In all probability, the first mention of the theories of radioactive poisoning, murder and explicit details of the injury marks on Sunanda Pushkar’s body, found its way into the media through Subramanian Swamy’s tweets and statements. Was Swamy privy to the proceedings of the investigation, or were his theories directing the course of this investigation?

But a lay man question: Is autopsy/post-mortem/injury report, a public document (especially when the case is sub-judice)?

[Refer to this 1980 judgment by the Delhi High Court: “It is well settled that the post-mortem report or an injury report is not substantive evidence. It has to be proved by the maker of it. It cannot, therefore, be termed as a public document as envisaged under S. 74 of the Evidence Act.”]

I don’t even want to talk of Mr. Swamy’s backing to Dr. Sudhir Gupta. Details of the so called autopsy report, besides being made public were also periodically refreshed in the public memory for obvious reasons.

Khair! Now that medical investigations have failed to draw a conclusion, the SIT is back to square one and wants to concentrate on Blackberry chats and whatever the Gujarat FSL is able to retrieve from Sunanda Pushkar’s laptop. (This lab must surely have an edge over those seven ‘Central’ Forensic Science labs).

The media trial:

An overenthusiastic section of the media, riding high on the tendency of the public to ignore legal & technical specifics, has zealously pursued this high profile case. The seasonal reappearance of this case every January is now makes for an annual media sensationalism ritual. There seems to be a method to media’s madness.

How many of us remember the scandalous reporting of the Arushi-Hemraj murders which had prompted The Hon. Supreme Court of India to pass a restraining order to bar sensationalist reporting?

“No one wants to gag the press. But someone can gag an irresponsible media reporting. We are asking the press not to sensationalise something which affects reputations.”- Justice Altamas Kabir.

The Hon. Supreme Court, had further in the 200th report on the Law Commission, pointed out that publications which are prejudicial to a suspect or an accused may affect judges subconsciously.

Now think-

While those involved in the investigation are yet to reach a conclusion, the Sunanda Pushkar case has more often than not, been referred to as the ‘Sunanda Pushkar murder case’ by a section of the media. This further had led to a trolling campaign against Shashi Tharoor on the social media, accusing him of being a ‘wife murderer.’

It is clear that a public (media) discourse, besides the power of influencing the public opinion, has also the power to influence a trial. Was this power of the media exploited by the opponents of Shashi Tharoor to try to frame him up, to influence the investigation and to turn the public opinion against him? If the media is free to come up with its own set of murder theories and judgments, why hasn’t a single media house cooked a theory around the possibility of this murder being an opponent job and hence a political conspiracy against Shashi Tharoor? Now that all the old theories about the ‘case’ are failing to gather momentum, there is a need to spin new fiction to help its beneficiaries get more mileage out this mix up.

With multiple versions of unverified reports making rounds on mainstream and social media, it appears that the only breakthrough discovery in this case so far, has been the discovery of the impossibility of achieving an expedient breakthrough.

Where’s the remote?