Dear Dr. Sudhir Gupta,
Soon you will present the AIIMS Medical Board's report on the cause of death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput. It is possible that much of the TV-watching public wants you to pronounce that the 34-year old actor was murdered and then hung from the ceiling fan of his bedroom. After bingeing on reality-TV broadcasts over the last 60 days, this is the narrative that makes sense to them.
On the other hand, your crack forensic team might rule that he died by suicide. But as a person who received one of the “last calls” from Sunanda Pushkar on the intervening night of 16th/17th January, 2014, who later died on the 17th, I urge you to state the cause of death clearly, one way or the other. Why? Let me pivot back to 2014/15.
At almost 3 pm on a mid-January afternoon in 2015, as I stepped out of our studio after anchoring the daily news programme, Ankhon Dekhi, I saw several missed calls from the media.
What did I think in that split second when I suddenly got this news? That the AIIMS Medical Board had declared Sunanda was poisoned and killed? Sunanda did not convey to me that she was under any bodily threat at all. On the contrary, she appeared to be comfortable, with a solicitous attendant standing nearby, whose voice I heard replying to a question Sunanda asked him while simultaneously talking to me. Physically secure, she was definitely extremely fraught with her narrative of marital betrayal by her husband, Shashi Tharoor. But there wasn't a hint of threat to life in Sunanda's voice or in the content of the call.
So that afternoon of the official pronouncement of death by poisoning 'murder', I kept replaying that longish conversation with Sunanda in my head to detect a trace of dread or fear or of her asking me for protection. There was none, although she was agonised by the public Twitter spat with the female Pakistani journalist and she seemed convinced of a bruising marital rift.
Dr. Gupta, when you announced that Sunanda Pushkar had died of poisoning, the media let out a collective tribal roar, pulsating from Kashmir to Kanyakumari via Kerala. Mass hysteria ensued, within the media and among captivated viewers.
Dr Subramanian Swamy, now a nominated Rajya Sabha MP, claimed that Sunanda Pushkar had been injected by foreign agents with radioactive polonium between the index and middle fingers, at the behest of the top leader of a political party. So radioactive isotopes, foreign agents, a car leaving New Delhi's Leela hotel at 11 pm purportedly with Sunanda, a Pakistani woman journalist, IPL Kochi Tuskers, hotels in Dubai, “50-crore girlfriend”, polygraph tests, a glittering life-style – and medications – this was the assortment the media fed to gape-mouthed audiences across the country, month after month.
But neither the AIIMS' premier Forensic Medicine Team nor the Medical Board could establish which 'poison' caused Sunanda's 'murder'. So 23 months after the death, at end-'15, a fraction of the viscera was dispatched to the FBI in USA. In mid-'16, senior police officers travelled to the USA to collect the viscera from the FBI whose report said that Sunanda had indeed been poisoned with Alprazolam (used strips of this common tranquilizer Alprax had been found in January 2014 near the deceased's body when the death was discovered in the hotel room) and traces of itch and inflammation-relieving Lidocaine Gel had been detected.
Another medical board was set up to examine the findings of the FBI and the medical board. The second medical board's findings released in Jan-'17, also noted that the cause of death was inconclusive. The police then started retrieving deleted chats from Sunanda's phones (sounds familiar?)