One of India's foremost Twitter celebrities and minister of state for human resource development, Shashi Tharoor, ironically remained the subject of mockery on the social media site all through Thursday, with his wife, Sunanda, openly trading insults with Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar over an alleged "affair" between the two.
The minister took to Twitter to try and stem a scandal plaguing him and his wife after a series of messages exposed an alleged affair he was having with Tarar appeared on Wednesday.
Tharoor posted the link of the joint statement on Twitter.
"We are distressed by the unseemly controversy that has arisen about some unauthorised tweets from our Twitter accounts," said Tharoor in a joint statement posted on Facebook.
"Various distorted accounts of comments allegedly made by Sunanda have appeared in the press. It appears that some personal and private comments responding to these unauthorised tweets -- comments that were not intended for publication -- have been misrepresented and led to some erroneous conclusions."
"We wish to stress that we are happily married and intend to remain that way. Sunanda has been ill and hospitalised this week and is seeking to rest. We would be grateful if the media respects our privacy."
Talking to Hindustan Times from Lahore, Tarar, a columnist with Pakistan's Daily Times, said, "My request to Mrs Tharoor is not to call me an ISI agent. Please tell her that my son is very upset. She can call me whatever she wants, but calling me an ISI agent is just crazy. I hope Mr Tharoor has a successful marriage. I hope he wins elections."
Her tweet, right after, read, "My name is Mehr, and I am not an ISI agent. Or RAW. Or CIA. Or Mossad. Or even the dead KGB."
Incidentally, Tarar's 13-year-old son, Musa Nishat, has Shashi Tharoor among his 275 followers on Twitter.
Tarar, who is in her mid-40s and a former op-ed page editor, also found support from fellow women journalists in Pakistan.
A former colleague of hers from Daily Times told HT on condition of anonymity, "By revealing details of the alleged affair in public, Sunanda Tharoor has made life very difficult for Mehr who is a single parent to a teenaged son. Her husband is a rich man who lives in Bahrain. These allegations of being an ISI agent or having an affair with a well known Indian politician will get people talking about her, and get her into trouble with the agencies. No one knows for sure if it was an affair, and even if it was, tumhara miya bhi toh involved hoga? Apne husband ko toh bahut achha bana rahi hain Sunanda."
As the day unfolded on Thursday, Sunanda, who was recently in another controversy for having shouted at a Khaleej Times journalist in Dubai, did a U-turn by distancing herself from the earlier interviews.
Sunanda told NDTV that her outpouring on Twitter was meant to keep her husband from straying after a day of bizarre tweets and clarifications.
Pushkar said that she indeed had sent out a few tweets to the Pakistani journalist, Meher Tarar, who she claimed "wants to have a life-long relationship with Shashi not knowing that he is a happily married man."
"The tweets that I sent today were that a woman should stay away from a woman's husband, it's not morally right," said Pushkar.
"I was just trying to tell my husband that stay away from her because it's election year. I was also a bit annoyed by a girl lying about me, trying to get close to my husband."
"He (Shashi) is a minister, I am a common person, "aam aadmi". I get upset. I am a human being," she said.
Pushkar also said that if Tarar wants to sue her, she is welcome to do that.
She added that Tharoor will issue a statement adding that "he is a busy man and doesn't have time for this."
"Shashi is a happily married man with no intention of leaving his wife and his wife has no intention of leaving him," she said.
"Mine and Shashi's account were hacked. But I did send out, I think, two-three messages on her (Mehr Tarar's) account. Shashi is kind of a gentleman... doesn't know how to say no. As you know, in our society the words "I love you" come very easily. Shashi is fond of people writing flattering articles about him. She knows how to push buttons," she told NDTV.
"For her information, Shashi and I are very happy together. Sad for her to know i guess (sic)," she further tweeted.
This prompted a post from Tarar that read, "The wife trashed the husband. Now doing WTH damage control. Isse kehte hain apne hee giraate hain nashemaan pe biljlian."
The drama as it unfolded
The entire episode became a fodder for gossip on Twitter and outside of it as the media lapped it up after the whacky tweets appeared on the minister's account on Wednesday.
Tharoor, who is followed by over 20 lakh Twitter users, was quick to control the damage by claiming that both his and Sunanda's account had been hacked.
Sunanda immediately posted that she had been tweeting using his account. She was upset with the messages being exchanged by Tharoor with Tarar.
She claimed that she was posting intimate, private messages from her husband's account which were sent to him by the Lahore-based journalist Tarar, to show the world "how she is stalking my husband".
She also accused Tarar of being an Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agent.
Tarar, too, took to Twitter saying that Pushkar was "out of her mind".
"I have nothing to say to a woman clearly out of her mind. To be called an ISI agent, a stalker..I have nothing to add. Just shows who she is," Tarar's post said.
"For a woman to trash another woman linking her w/her husband is the lowest form of sickness ever. It's nauseous. No respect for her marriage," she wrote.
But, the tangle became all the more knotty when Sunanda denied Tharoor's claim on Thursday morning, admitting that she herself had posted those tweets.
"Our accounts have not been hacked. I have been sending out those tweets," Sunanda told Economic Times (ET), calling Tarar an "ISI agent" and claiming that her husband was "flattered by the attention" he was getting from her.
Alluding to the controversy involving her husband during the 2010-Indian Premier League controversy, she also added, "I took upon myself the crimes of this man (Tharoor) during IPL. I will not allow this to be done to me."
Indian Express' website later quoted Sunanda as also saying that she felt "destroyed as a wife and a woman" over her 57-year-old husband's "rip-roaring affair", and would seek divorce.
This was followed by a string of insulting tweets by the 51-year-old, warning Tarar off and urging people to unfollow her.
"@MehrTarar leave us Indians alone and stop talking to my husband and pleading with him. Its digrading respect youself as a women (sic)."
She followed it up with another tweet hinting that Tarar had made similar overtures towards Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah in the past.
"its funny on a election yr ppl want to bring down an MPusing a Paki journo who has lost her job and tries with everyone including with Omar (sic)," read her tweet.
When contacted, Abdullah told HT that he had given an interview to Tarar in December on a request from Tharoor’s office, but expressed dismay that his name had been needlessly dragged into the controversy.
"After requests from Mr Shashi Tharoor and his office, I agreed to grant an interview to Ms Tarar in Kashmir House, Delhi at the end of December 2013. The interview primarily focused on Kashmir and the India-Pakistan relationship... was recorded from start to finish by Ms Tarar and during the course of the interview Ms Tarar's conduct was completely professional. There was nothing in her behaviour that Ms Pushkar has alluded to," said Abdullah.
"While I'm very sorry for what Ms Pushkar and Mr Tharoor find themselves going through, I find it inexcusable that Ms Pushkar should try and drag me in to this mess. She is making wild assumptions that have no basis in fact. While she is free to talk about her life and what goes on in it she has no right to invent things and drag other people in to her domestic disputes," he added.
Tharoor called his wife's outburst "mystifying," in a brief comment to ET, and remained silent thereafter.
Tarar hit back at Sunanda, tweeting, "Unbelievable. The audacity".
"I have nothing to say to a woman clearly out of her mind."
Twitter users, meanwhile, were quick to seek humour in the turn of events, and the microblogging site was abuzz with jokes about the Congress minister's situation.
"First Shashi Tharoor lost external affairs ministry because of Sunanda. Now he'll lose Sunanda because of external affairs!" posted @ArmsLengthTP.
"What is Sunanda Pushkar and Mehr Tarar's favorite Japanese dish? A : Sushi Tharoor," tweeted @veejaysai Q.
Both Sunanda and Shashi Tharoor did not respond to requests from HT for an interview on the matter.