Madhuri Gupta, a veteran diplomat, has been sentenced to three years in prison for passing on sensitive information to a Pakistani man who had honey-trapped her.
New Delhi: 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.
Madhuri Gupta, 61, the diplomat sentenced by a Delhi court to three years in prison for espionage last week, had a stellar career of nearly three decades behind her when she was posted at the Indian High Commission in Pakistan nearly 10 years ago. It was a tense time for bilateral ties, with 26/11 bringing the nuclear-armed neighbours on the cusp of war.
Fluent in Urdu, her main job as the second secretary (press and information) at the Indian High Commission was to scan the Pakistani media and prepare two dossiers daily interpreting the developments.
Eventually her paths crossed with a suspected ISI spy named Jamshed, also known as Jim, who was several years her junior at 30, and she reportedly fell for him. Jamshed reportedly approached her with a clear brief to lay a honeytrap.
It is believed she subsequently began to pass on sensitive information about India to him. When word reached Delhi in late 2009, just six months into her posting, that an Indian diplomat had gone rogue, she was put under surveillance for six months.
According to officials, once their fears were confirmed, the government called Gupta to India on the pretext of handling media relations for the SAARC Summit, scheduled to take place later that year in Bhutan. She came to India on 21 April, 2010, spent a night at home, and was arrested by Delhi Police the next morning. She was released on bail two years later.
In their chargesheet, Delhi Police accused Gupta of leaking sensitive information to Pakistani officials and remaining in touch with two ISI officials — Jamshed, her handler, and Mubshar Raza Rana. They said Gupta was an asset to her handlers, and cited love as her motivation.
In an email attached to the chargesheet, Gupta had purportedly raised concerns over Jamshed’s attempts to restrict her interactions with other Pakistanis ahead of their planned marriage.
“Till we are married and till I am in the present job I have to behave and live accordingly but Jim has strong objection to my socialising with any Pakistani. Why does he have such a poor opinion of his own people? In any job that I take up this attitude of Jim will be a big hurdle,” she wrote, “I am not used to just sitting at home in purdah. After marriage he will neither socialise himself nor let me socialise with anyone.”
While convicting her of criminal conspiracy and spying, the court said Gupta’s actions had created a “severe security threat” and “tarnished the country’s image”, adding that “more responsible behaviour was expected from a person of her stature”. She was, however, acquitted of stronger provisions entailed by the sharing of documents, according to a report in The Indian Express.
‘Spying never stops’
Gupta has maintained her innocence throughout, alleging a frame-up by officials at the Indian High Commission with whom she reportedly had a strained relationship.
Before her Pakistan posting, Gupta had served stints in Iraq, Liberia, Malaysia and Croatia during her 27-year career with the ministry of external affairs. Her proficiency in Urdu was one of the primary reasons she was picked for the Islamabad assignment.
Her colleagues at the ministry claimed to have been in awe of her “intellectual acuity”. Her keen interest in Sufism saw her begin work to secure a PhD on the Persian Sufi poet Rumi, but she never completed it.
Talking about Gupta, former Intelligence Bureau special director A.S. Dulat told ThePrint, “Spying in the world never stops, people get caught every now and then. This was also one such case, these cases are mostly at the lower level.”
He said the number of cases where diplomats had been sent home on charges of spying had increased in the last five-six years. “Recently, there was a Brigadier in the Pakistan High commission who was sent home for spying. Between India and Pakistan, a number of diplomats have been sent home in the last five years on the basis of suspicion,” he added.