| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI Jan 22 When Shashi Tharoor's wife was
found dead in a swanky Delhi hotel last week after their marital
strife had been splashed on Twitter, the colourful career of a
jet-setting minister looked in doubt and another symbol of
India's elite lost its sheen.
A magistrate who conducted an inquest has ordered police to
investigate the death of Tharoor's wife, Sunanda Pushkar. She
died on Friday just days after she accessed his Twitter account
to accuse him of adultery with a Pakistani journalist and
getting into a public spat with the woman.
An autopsy has found that Pushkar likely died of an overdose
of anti-depressant drugs.
Tharoor, who was once a candidate for U.N. secretary
general, has asked authorities to speedily conclude
investigations, saying he was "horrified" by media speculation
about him and his wife.
The widely published photographs of a distraught Tharoor
after his wife's funeral are in stark contrast to years of media
coverage of the well-dressed, former high-flying diplomat who
has been courted from India's cocktail party circuit to U.S.
television chat shows.
A prolific author and one of India's first major tweeting
politicians, the U.S.-educated lawmaker and the beautiful
Kashmiri who became his third wife were regulars in the social
pages. But Tharoor has also been immersed in a corruption
scandal and Twitter controversies have dogged him for years.
Media accounts of Pushkar's last days, spiced by the
involvement of a journalist from the country's old foe,
Pakistan, have gripped the country over the past week.
The tale of one of the wealthiest figures in government has
coincided with the growing prominence of politicians who have
emphasised their less-privileged roots.
Anti-corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax civil
servant who leads the Common Man's Party and eschews VIP
privileges like official cars, and Hindu nationalist Narendra
Modi, touting himself as the son of a tea stall owner, are now
dominating as a general election approaches.
"This is the era of the rise of the common man, the tea
seller," said Sagarika Ghose, deputy editor of CNN-IBN and a
leading political commentator. "There is a sense that Tharoor is
not what India is about these days.
"There is a feeling that the elites are getting their
comeuppance, that their time has gone."
SERIES OF SCANDALS
The drama around Tharoor comes after a series of scandals
that have dented the idea of a rising, confident India.
The image of an economic juggernaut was undermined last year
when growth fell to its lowest in a decade.
Politicians have been dogged by allegations of corruption on
a spectacular scale, and a grisly gang rape in Delhi at the end
of 2012 that sparked huge protests has marred the "Incredible
India" slogan meant to draw tourists from around the globe.
Even a former Supreme Court judge has been probed over
alleged sexual harassment and one of India's most powerful
journalists was arrested last month in another sexual assault
Tharoor may survive politically. He has received backing
from the leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, and
sympathy from many politicians. One TV channel called him the
"Comeback Kid" for his ability to bounce back from reverses.
"There's a tendency to caricature Tharoor. He's glamorous,
in gossip columns, a fashion statement," said Ghose. "But he is
also a very intelligent man and talented politician."
Tharoor left India as a student and, after nearly three
decades at the United Nations, he returned to join local
politics when he lost to Ban Ki-moon in the race for
Secretary-General in 2006.
He made his mark quickly, becoming one of the first Indian
politicians to harness social media. His Twitter handle shows
more than 2 million followers.
"He became a symbolic person for a more modern India," said
Bhaskara Rao, a well-known commentator on social and political
issues and head of a New Delhi-based think tank.
Tharoor has had his share of problems. As junior foreign
minister, his political career almost ended after he tweeted
that he would fly "cattle class" in solidarity with "holy cows"
- sparking a storm of criticism from the country's Hindu
majority, for whom the cow is sacred.
Tharoor was also reprimanded by his foreign minister that
same year for criticising the tightening of tourist visa
In 2010, Tharoor resigned over allegations concerning a $333
million cricket league franchise bid when it was revealed -
again on Twitter - that the winning consortium allotted stakes
worth about $15 million for free to Pushkar, his
Tharoor returned to the council of ministers two years later
and is now the minister for human resource development.
"He has a charming personality and is an astute
commentator," said Rao. "But the hype also has its pitfalls. And
that is rather symbolic of the emergence of India."
(Additonal reporting by Jose Devasia in Trivandrum; Editing by
John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)