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Indian minister pledges cooperation for probe into wife's death

Source: Reuters - Sun, 19 Jan 2014 13:07 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI, Jan 19 (Reuters) - An Indian government minister promised to cooperate in a probe into the death of his wife days after she accused him of adultery in a case that has become a political embarrassment for the ruling Congress in an election year.

Shashi Tharoor's wife was found dead in a luxury hotel room in New Delhi after she went public on Twitter, saying a Pakistan-based journalist had been stalking her husband.

An autopsy revealed that Sunanda Pushkar's death was "sudden and unnatural" and that her body bore injury marks, although doctors said it didn't mean those injuries had caused her death.

Tharoor, a high-flying former UN diplomat, called for a quick investigation into the death of his wife that he hoped would put an end to rumours about their personal lives.

"I have finally had a chance to catch up with media reports and am horrified to read the reckless speculation rampant there," Tharoor, a junior human resource development minister, wrote in a letter to Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

"I pledge my full and unstinting cooperation. Nothing short of truth will end the indignity to which my wife and I are being subjected."

The scandal has erupted just as the Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi is preparing to fight a tough election against a resurgent main opposition party as well as a new political group that promises clean and open politics.

Rivals have painted the Congress as a party of power and patronage, engulfed in corruption scandals and unable to hold its leaders to account for their actions.

Tharoor's marital problems have been splashed across the front pages of newspapers and pored over by 24-hour television channels, prompting calls by the opposition for a fuller inquiry into the death of his wife.

Politicians in India have traditionally refrained from attacking each other's personal lives and sex scandals involving top leaders are rare.

"The circumstances of this case are such that we need to get to the bottom of this," said Subramaniam Swamy, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

Tharoor and his wife hit the headlines earlier this week when Sunanda said she had gone into his Twitter account and posted what she said were intimate messages from Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar to expose a "rip-roaring affair."

Tarar hit back saying she would sue Sunanda for calling her a Pakistani spy and denied she had an affair with her husband. She said she was friends with Tharoor on Twitter and exchanged comments about articles she had written but that was all.

An Indian magistrate leading an inquest into the death of Sunanda is expected to question Tharoor within a day or two. Under Indian criminal law, a magistrate must conduct an inquiry if a woman has died within seven years of marriage.

The Tharoors married in late 2010, the third marriage for both.

A Delhi police spokesman declined to comment on the line of inquiry into the death of Sunanda until the final postmortem report.

(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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