Seven years after the death of his wife Sunanda Pushkar, a Delhi court has cleared Congress MP Shashi Tharoor of charges of cruelty and abetting her alleged suicide. It is reassuring and welcome that the last word in this unfortunate case belongs not to the high-decibel proclamations of primetime juries and executioners, but to the rigour of due process. The court found no grounds to sustain the case against Tharoor. The prosecution could not conclusively convince the court that Tharoor “provoked, incited or induced the deceased to commit suicide”. It decided that he did not deserve to stand trial on the basis of the flimsy evidence presented: “…criminal trials require evidence. No doubt a precious life was lost. But in the absence of specific allegations and sufficient material … on the basis of which the court could, at this stage presume that the accused had committed the offence, the accused cannot be compelled to face the rigmaroles of a criminal trial,” the court said.
In the seven years since Pushkar’s death in January, 2014, Tharoor was compelled to face a vicious, fact-free, slander-heavy media trial. Television channels and prize anchors cried murder and broadcast dubious tapes, reporters pursued him at press conferences. So much so that the Delhi High Court had to reprimand a channel and restrain it from running a “parallel” investigation. The hounding of Tharoor only followed a template that has been used by news television many times in the past. A mix of salacious unverified detail, vigilante indignation and voyeurism is used to appeal to the worst in viewers’ instincts, and tap their insecurities to scapegoat a victim. This is the playbook that was put in action in the Aarushi Talwar case; and that led TV warriors and social media into a terrain of alt-facts and conspiracy as they bayed for actor Rhea Chakraborty’s arrest for the suicide of Sushant Singh. Spiked with communal poison, it was also used to dehumanise the Tablighi Jamaat. In the Pushkar death case, the private life of a prominent politician became the easy target. While Tharoor had the resources to fight this case and stare down the vilification, ordinary citizens have little defence against such campaigns of cynicism.
The megaphones of the powerful might wish to convince the gullible otherwise, but the court has reaffirmed that justice is arrived at by a consideration of facts and evidence. The rest is noise.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 20, 2021 under the title ‘The rest is noise’.