Sunanda Pushkar (27 June 1964 – 17 January 2014) was an Indo-Canadian businessperson and the wife of Indian minister Shashi Tharoor. She was a sales manager in the Dubai-based TECOM Investments, and a co-owner of the India-based Rendezvous Sports World.
Sunanda Pushkar was born on 27 June 1964 in a Kashmiri Pandit family of landlords and army officers native to Bomai. She was the only daughter of Lt Col Pushkar Nath Dass and Jaya Dass. Her father retired from the army in 1983. She had two brothers, one of whom works for a bank; the other is in the Army. The family moved from Bomai to Jammu in 1990, after their house was set on fire by militants. She graduated from the Government College for Women in Srinagar, where she studied during 1986-88.
While studying at the Government College, she married a fellow Kashmiri Pandit and a hotel management graduate Sanjay Raina. The couple divorced in 1988. Subsequently, Sunanda went to Dubai in 1989 and married Sujith Menon in 1991. Their son was born in November 1992. In October 2009, she met Shashi Tharoor at a party organised by the billionaire Sunny Varkey. Tharoor had arrived in Dubai in 2007, with his Canadian wife Christa Giles. Sunanda married Shashi Tharoor in 2010, after he was elected to the Indian Parliament. The couple had a Malayali wedding ceremony in Tharoor’s ancestral home at Elavanchery in Kerala, India. This was the third marriage for both of them.
In India, Pushkar had briefly worked as a receptionist at the Centaur Lake View hotel in Srinagar, after doing a course in hotel management. After coming to Dubai, she started an event management business called Expressions, and became well known for her networking with sponsors and artists for fashion shows. Her company organised several model shows for product launches, featuring several Indian fashion designers and models, including Hemant Trivedi, Rhea Pillai, Vikram Phadnis and Aishwarya Rai. Later, she joined Bozell Prime Advertising as an accounts executive. She and her second husband Sujith Menon organised a Mammootty show together, which made a financial loss. According to one report, the couple had collaborated on the show in an attempt to save their failing marriage. According to Sunanda, Sujith had run into financial trouble as a financial consultant. Sujith returned to India, and died in an accident in Delhi in March 1997.
After Sujith’s death, Sunanda started getting threatening calls from his creditors. For a few months, she left her four-year old son with her sister-in-law, and later with her parents. By the time she brought him back to Dubai, he had developed a communication disorder. She left Bozell Prime to spend time with her son, and later joined Ravissant. Struggling as a small-time event manager in Dubai, she moved in as a paying guest at her friend’s apartment in Al Satwa. She spelt her name as “Sue P. Menon” on her business cards, and later, started using “Pushkar” (an alternative spelling of her father’s name) as her last name. According to her, she faced financial troubles, as she had to repay Sujith’s debts, support her parents and her brother through engineering college.
Impressed by the Canadian healthcare system, she emigrated to Canada in the 1990s, as her son needed speech therapy. According to one account, she lived with a banker companion in Toronto. According to Sunanda, she became a partner in an IT firm called “Valley Resources” through sweat equity, after a San Francisco-based friend introduced her to the founders. Subsequently, she became wealthy during the dot-com bubble, managing to buy her own house and a BMW car. The business was impacted by the post-9/11 slowdown and closed in 2001. After four months of unemployment and financial difficulties, Sunanda did a course in emotional intelligence, and joined a company called Noble House International. She organised “Human Potential Reengineering” programmes for several banks in Miami, Amsterdam and Geneva.
Sunanda felt that she was not earning enough at Noble House. In August 2004, she moved to Dubai with a Canadian passport, working as a general manager for Best Homes. Later, she joined TECOM investments to work on the International Media Production Zone. She was financially successful, buying two 3-bedroom apartments at Palm Jumeirah, an apartment in Jumeirah Beach Residence and two more apartments in the Executive Towers.
Return to India
When she was dating Shashi, Sunanda started getting media attention in India, as it became known that she had been given sweat equity worth 700 million in Rendezvous Sports World. In 2010, the company bid for the IPL cricket team Kochi Tuskers Kerala, which represented Tharoor’s native state Kerala. The company was founded in 2009, while Sunanda Pushkar was made a Director of the company on 25 February 2010, just 18 days before the IPL bid. There were allegations that Shashi Tharoor had misused his ministerial position to ask for a free stake in the company, and that Sunanda was acting as a proxy for him. The controversy ultimately resulted in Shashi Tharoor’s resignation as a minister. In her defence, Sunanda argued that she had been invited to join Rendezvous because of her “extensive international experience as a business executive, marketing manager and entrepreneur”. She also stated that she had been given a similar offer by Karim Morani of Kolkata Knight Riders in the past. In April 2010, Sunanda announced that she had relinquished her stake in the company following the controversy. However, she continued to hold the stake, after was told that there is no provision under the BCCI’s IPL rules for surrender of shares at that stage. Later in 2014, after the Twitter controversy (see below) and shortly before her death, Sunanda stated that she had taken upon herself “the crimes of this man [Shashi Tharoor] during IPL”.
On 15 January 2014, a series of intimate messages, supposedly sent by the Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar to Tharoor, were posted on Tharoor’s Twitter account. The messages proclaimed Tarar’s love for Tharoor. Tharoor tried to downplay the incident by stating that his account had been hacked. However, Sunanda later stated that the account had not been hacked and that she had posted the messages to expose what she believed to be Mehr’s stalking of her husband. She accused Mehr of being an ISI agent. Later, she stated that she did not want to go public about the matter, especially in an election year. The next day, a note titled as “Joint statement by Sunanda and Shashi Tharoor” was published on Shashi Tharoor’s Facebook page. The note stated that the couple was happily married, and that some personal comments not intended for publication had been misrepresented after being posted to Twitter. The note also stated that Sunanda had been hospitalised after being ill, and was seeking rest.
On 17 January 2014, a day after the Twitter controversy, Sunanda was found dead in room number 345 of the Leela Palace hotel in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi. Shashi Tharoor discovered her body, when she did not wake up from her sleep in the evening. He informed the Delhi Police, who recovered the body from the hotel and sent it for postmortem. According to initial reports, Sunanda was suspected to have committed suicide. Later reports stated that the cause of death was unnatural; the doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences gave a preliminary autopsy report that revealed injury marks on her body. They said that these injuries may or may not be the cause of death. The autopsy indicated that she died of drug overdose, most likely a combination of sedatives, other strong medicines and probably alcohol. An investigation has been ordered by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate to examine the cause of poisoning and to ascertain if it was murder or suicide. Her body was cremated at Lodhi Crematorium in South Delhi.
Doctors at KIMS Hospital Trivandrum, who had examined her a few days earlier said that Sunanda did not have serious health problems. However, Sunanda had hinted about her death, hours before her body was recovered from the hotel.