(This story has been updated to reflect that Madhuri Gupta was convicted in an espionage case by a Delhi court on Friday, 18 May. It was first published on 25 April 2018, a day before a Delhi court was to hear the case against Gupta.)
Barely a year and a half had passed after the 26/11 Mumbai attack in 2008, when news about a “spy” in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad made its way from Pakistan to the Director of Intelligence Bureau Rajiv Mathur in early 2010. It was the time when tensions spiked between India and Pakistan, and intelligence wings – the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) – could not afford another lapse.
A low-ranking diplomat, who held the post of a secretary, named Madhuri Gupta, came under the scanner in Islamabad. She was arrested on 22 April 2010 in New Delhi, for conspiring and spying for Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, and was granted bail in 2012. In the same year, charges were framed against her under the stringent provisions of the Official Secrets Act.
Now, eight years later, on Friday, 18 May, a Delhi court convicted Gupta in the espionage case.
If you are wondering who is Madhuri Gupta, here are nine things you’d want to know about her and the case.
1. Initial Investigation A Closely Guarded Secret
When initial investigation by IB “signalled” that Madhuri Gupta was a “spy”, the then Bureau head Rajiv Mathur informed R&AW chief KC Verma, and Home Secretary GK Pillai. But the investigators had reportedly not given a clear picture about the extent of classified information passed on to Pakistan, or if Gupta had other accomplices within the High Commission.
The three-member committee ruled out immediate arrest and agreed to continue surveillance for another two-three week period in March 2010. According to The Caravan, Gupta was false-fed information through various channels she had access to, and the movement of information was tracked. When the leak happened, it would reportedly be traced back to her.
According to the magazine, no one knew of the investigation except a select few in India, and no one was to be informed in Pakistan.
2. A Planned Arrest & A Mock that Followed
Gupta was summoned to Delhi, on the pretext of assisting in organising media relations for a SAARC summit that was to be held in Bhutan later in 2010. She landed in Delhi on 21 April, and reportedly spent the night at her home in West Delhi.
On 22 April, she arrived in the MEA office in South Block and was scheduled to attend a meeting with the then additional secretary Ashok Tomar.
It was then that a call was placed to Special Cell of Delhi Police, who had been informed of the case earlier. Gupta, a Grade B Indian Foreign Service Officer was arrested for passing sensitive information to agents of Pakistan intelligence.
“What took you so long to get me?” she reportedly mocked the investigating officers, on arrest.
3. R&AW Station Chief in Pak Revealed
What followed Gupta’s arrest, unsurprisingly, was media frenzy. But among all the “sensational revelations”, came a grave accusation. According to the Caravan, news reports, quoting “official sources”, claimed that R&AW Station Chief in Islamabad RK Sharma was under the scanner. Reports also allegedly revealed that RK Sharma was posted as a counsellor at the High Commission.
With that, the name and designation of India’s top intelligence official in Pakistan was revealed.
As The Caravan reported:
Sharma’s official cover in Islamabad had been blown by his own country, a move that seemed certain to damage R&AW operations in Pakistan and bring his assignment to a swift and ignominious end.
4. Trial Started Two Years Later
Madhuri Gupta went to trial 2012, almost two years after she was first arrested by the cops. She was jailed until January 2012, and was formally charged with violating two sections of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) of 1923. The OSA offences she had been booked under carried a maximum three-year sentence. Having reportedly served 21 months in Tihar Jail in Delhi, waiting for her trial, she was released on bail.
However, the Delhi High Court charged Gupta under the stringent provisions of the Official Secrets Act which entailed a maximum punishment of up to 14 years, setting aside the punishment provided by trial court.
5. Madhuri Gupta Readily Shared Information With Investigators
The investigating officer in the case, Pankaj Sood, speaking to The Caravan, reportedly said that Gupta was cooperative and “willingly” disclosed details of her email account – and allegedly even agreed that she passed information to Pakistan agents.
The chargesheet filed in the case in 2010, reportedly revealed that 73 emails were exchanged and recovered from the email account firstname.lastname@example.org, reportedly used by Gupta.
Speaking to The Caravan, the investigating officer said:
She had blown the covers of all the Indian intelligence officials in Pakistan, disclosed biographical details for every employee at the High Commission, and also mentioned the existence of “some secret routes to India”.
6. Love Lured Her Into Sharing Information?
The chargesheet reportedly noted that Gupta was an asset to her handlers, and her motivation, according to the prosecution, was love.
“They threw a young man at her and she got trapped. The main thing is, she was caught in a honeytrap. That’s it”, Pankaj Sood reportedly said.
Jamshed alias Jim, one of the two handlers, was a younger man, about 30 years of age. He was reportedly tasked with romancing the older woman, and obtaining information.
7. Gupta Served in MEA For 27 Years
In the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), where she was posted for 27 years, Gupta was known for her scholarship of Urdu literature. Her colleagues in the ministry reportedly believed she has a certain “intellectual acuity”, and demonstrated keen interest in Sufism.
Gupta had begun doctoral work on Jalaluddin Rumi, the Persian Sufi poet, reported Outlook. However, for reasons unknown, she could not complete her PhD.
Prior to Pakistan, she served in Iraq, Liberia, Malaysia and Croatia.
8. Urdu Knowledge Sent Her to Pakistan
Gupta’s knowledge of Urdu was one of the primary reasons for her assignment in Islamabad. Her main task was to reportedly scan the Pakistani media and make two daily dossiers interpreting the developments of the Urdu press.
Within six months of the posting, however, she was allegedly put under the scanner.
9. Gupta Was Vying A Moscow Posting, But Was Turned Down
When she joined service at the MEA in 1980s, she was vying for a post in Moscow. Her then “mentor” who was also posted in the Russian capital was reportedly keen to have her there.
However, the MEA was apprehensive and did not switch the posting as she was working with the Soviet Information Centre prior to joining the services.
(With inputs from the Caravan, Outlook)
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