NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's top-tweeting minister scrambled to save his career Thursday after his wife exposed his alleged adultery on Twitter and revived a cricket scandal that led him to resign from cabinet in 2010.
The damaging quarrel began late Wednesday when a curious series of messages appeared on the Twitter account of suave thrice-married human resources minister Shashi Tharoor, seen by his two million followers.
They showed private exchanges purportedly between the 57-year-old (@shashitharoor) and Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar (@mehrtarar), in which she professed her love for him and he said his wife had discovered his affair.
Mr Tharoor quickly responded by saying his account had been "hacked", but furious wife Sunanda spoke to two newspapers overnight confirming herself as the author of the messages. "Our accounts have not been hacked and I have been sending out these tweets," Ms Sunanda told the Economic Times, adding to the Indian Express that she "100 percent" stood by the messages.
Ms Tarar denied having an affair with the former high-flying UN diplomat.
Mr Tharoor had to resign from his first ministerial post after revelations that then-girlfriend Ms Sunanda had been given a free stake in a new Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team.
Opposition parties said the stake, reportedly worth up to US$15 million (S$ 20 million), was for Mr Tharoor's behind-the-scenes services in putting together a consortium that bought a franchise in his home state of Kerala.
"I took upon myself the crimes of this man during IPL. I will not allow this to be done to me," Ms Sunanda told the Economic Times.
Speaking Thursday live on NDTV television, she added that "they didn't take my permission to put my name... for the equity," adding that she had been told not to talk about it by the ruling Congress party.
In a bid to control the damage, Mr Tharoor issued what he described as a joint statement saying that the couple were "distressed" by a controversy created by "unauthorised tweets" and denounced "distorted accounts of comments allegedly made by Sunanda in the press." "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," added the statement.
Mr Tharoor, a father of two adult sons, resigned in 2010 saying that his conscience was clear over the IPL scandal, telling parliament he had done "nothing improper or unethical let alone illegal".
Reopening one of the many corruption scandals that have blighted the second term of the ruling Congress-led government could further dent the party's re-election prospects in national elections due by May.
Mr Tharoor, who was once in the running to be secretary general of the United Nations, is the most active user of Twitter in the government and he has been instrumental in encouraging colleagues. But it has damaged him on at least three occasions since he quit his three-decade career in the UN and entered Indian politics in 2008.
The allegations about corruption in the IPL were first exposed on the platform by the competition's top administrator Lalit Modi and in 2009 Mr Tharoor had to apologise after making a joke about "holy cows" in the cabinet. Ms Sunanda, who has reportedly been suffering from tuberculosis, accused Pakistani journalist Ms Tarar of being a Pakistani intelligence agent and of "stalking" her husband.
Ms Tarar laughed off the allegations in a tweet that read: "My name is Mehr, and I am not an ISI agent. Or RAW. Or CIA. Or Mossad. Or even the dead KGB. May I go now?"