Last week, a Delhi court sentenced former diplomat Madhuri Gupta to three years of imprisonment for passing sensitive information to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) while serving as a high ranked official at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. According to reports, the court said that her actions caused a severe security threat. She was sentenced under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) for charges of spying, and wrongful communication of classified information.
Now, this story was widely reported in the national media. While most news outlets reported the news stating out the facts of the case and information about the ex-diplomat and why she was arrested, there were a few who did their best to twist and turn the conviction of Madhuri Gupta as per their interests. A Congress supporter tried to give it a communal angle on Twitter, then there was an article by The Print, a website run by Shekhar Gupta of the famous ‘coup’ theory.
The Print ran an article titled ‘Falling in love with a Pakistani spy cost Indian diplomat Madhuri Gupta reputation, career and 3 years in jail’. That is a powerful headline. Reading the headline, any average Indian, (having grown up watching Bollywood movies of love and its countless ‘Pyar Ke Dushman’) would immediately imagine a vulnerable woman, being punished for the crime of falling in love. That is a very subtle, inconspicuous mental honey-trap in itself. Because Madhuri Gupta’s story of treason was not of innocent puppy love and a woman being punished for her “crime of falling in love”. It is a story of a senior diplomat leaking sensitive information while being completely aware of her acts, their consequences and the intentions of the people demanding the information from her. There is nothing romantic about it.
Wasn’t aware falling in love necessarily means selling your country out and committing treason. Maybe coupta knows something mortals like us don’t https://t.co/x7FRpIEl5P
— Nupur (@UnSubtleDesi) May 23, 2018
Every news story, every information can be approached from several sides. It is usual for news outlets and journalists to report all sides of a story, the good, bad and ugly. But laying out bare facts is one thing, and the other thing is what websites like ‘The Print’ do. We have seen how they fabricated a story of casteism and discrimination over the mundane issue of ‘plate segregation’ in one of the hostels in IIT Bombay. We have seen how they spun sensational lies about the Doklam stand-off. This time they have tried to paint colourful shades of love and heartbreak over a plain and deliberate act of selling one’s nation for personal benefit.
The article starts with the lines, ” The story has all the makings of a commercial Bollywood potboiler. A veteran diplomat posted in an enemy country finding love with a much younger local, only to discover that the romance was but a ruse to get her to cough up sensitive information.”
Notice how the tone of the article highlights the imagined vulnerability of the said diplomat, the use of the word ‘ruse’ furthers the narrative that the poor lady was somehow duped by her cunning lover into giving information inadvertently.
The details of the case, however, show something else. Gupta was sent to Pakistan to work as the Second Secretary (Press and Information) at the Indian High Commission office in Islamabad. She had worked there after the 2008 Mumbai attacks of 26/11 and as anyone can guess, would have been completely aware of the tense diplomatic ties and security concerns at that period. Gupta came under the scanner barely six-months into her posting at Islamabad, a report claims. She was hopeful for a posting in Moscow but was sent to Islamabad for her skills in the Urdu language. While in Islamabad, she was reportedly honey-trapped by an ISI operative named Jamshed (Jim) and started divulging official information. Jamshed was 30 at that time. Gupta would have been 52. Gupta was reportedly romantically involved with Jamshed and started divulging official information to him and another ISI operative named Mubshar Raza.
Indian officials soon realised that sensitive information is being leaked to ISI. Readers should note here that it was not a one-off incident, as a clickbaity headline would have us believe, but went on for months. While she was under probe, Indian officials reportedly even false-fed her information, only to see them relayed to the ISI. When Gupta was arrested by the Delhi police after being sent back home on the pretext of attending the SAARC summit, the Delhi Police had found sensitive information being leaked from her email account through October 2009 to April 2010, till her arrest.
According to reports, the Ministry of External Affairs had received information that Gupta had shared sensitive information not only personally, but also from her computers at home and office (the Indian High Commission) too. There is more, Gupta’s contact with the ISI agents was unauthorised.
A romanticised notion paints a picture of an innocent woman who is deeply in love spilling out some information by mistake. But in Gupta’s case, the information shared was deliberate, with full knowledge of their sensitivity and the potential threat it could possess at the hands of an enemy country.
For example, the court had observed that Gupta, in an email, had promised to her lover cum handler that she would collect information related to hydroelectric projects in Jammu and Kashmir. Gupta had even visited Jammu on a false pretext of attending a marriage ceremony. The court had reportedly observed that Gupta was even found to have been giving information regarding postings of officers of the Ministry of Defence, External Affairs and High Commission of India including the family particulars of the concerned officers. The court had stated that Gupta had put the lives of Indian officers and their family members at risk by her acts. Are these acts the acts of a romance heroine hopelessly in love? No, they are the acts of a cold-blooded operative.
The Print’s portrayal would have been believable had Gupta’s leaking of information been a singular incident. Gupta had pleaded in her defence that she was a single woman and a ‘victim of circumstances’. But the means and mannerisms of the information she had shared do not speak of a woman being duped by her cunning lover. There are reports claiming that she was even paid for the information she provided. Please note here that Gupta has been sentenced for giving sensitive information to not one, but two ISI operatives.
The court had observed in its verdict that from a person Madhuri Gupta’s stature, it was expected that she would act in a more responsible manner than an ordinary citizen and her actions had tarnished the image of the country and caused a severe threat to national security.
Can we paint Madhuri Gupta’s deliberate and prolonged acts as that of a star-crossed lover? No. Can we believe that a senior diplomat, who had served for decades in countries like Iraq, Liberia, Malaysia and Croatia was not aware of the sensitive nature of India-Pakistan relationship and the potential threats the information can bring? Can we believe that being posted at Indian High Commission, she was unaware of the constant threat Indian officials are under from the ISI and its terrorists in J&K? Finally, even as The Print tries to evoke sympathy citing how she was ‘worried’ about Jamshed’s possessive nature and how Gupta was an ardent admirer of Urdu and Sufism, can we cite ‘love’ as an excuse for acts of treason?
She said she was a ‘victim of circumstances’. What sort of ‘circumstances’ would lead to someone selling their country? ‘The Print’ would have us believe that ‘love’ can do that to a person. Can ‘love’ make you sell your country and deliberately, potentially, march your fellow countrymen to the altar of death? I think not.