First Stirrings

Perception and prejudice

His years as a civil servant taught Madhukar Gupta how wide the gap between reality and perception could really be

WHEN Madhukar Gupta, an alumnus of Allahabad University, decided to appear for the civil services examination in 1970, he was only following a norm set by his grandfather, father, uncles and brothers.

His grandfather, Lala Prasadi Lal, was in imperial service, an euphemism for the civil services under the British rule. His father, Dr Anandswarup Gupta, had an illustrious career as an Indian Police officer (1939 batch), which included serving as the Founder-Director of the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D). Four of his uncles were also in the premier service.

Two of his elder brothers had already joined the civil services when Madhukar Gupta, the third among the male siblings, joined the IAS (Indian Administrative Service) on July 1, 1971. Eventually, his youngest brother also got into the IAS.

Since one of his brothers had opted for the Foreign Service, his father’s only request was that he serve within the country. “In those days, one would get 10-15 days to make a choice. I wanted to go for the Foreign Service. But my father did not want it. I (eventually) opted for home (Uttar Pradesh) cadre,” he recounts. He still remembers OP Gupta, his batchmate, who went to Tokyo in his place. He landed up in Tehri as a Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM).

Gupta says he trekked and walked a lot, a trait he inherited from his father, to keep a check on his government subordinates. “When my father was ASP in Banaras, he would patrol police stations in his personal vehicle at night. Once he found nobody in a police station and walked away with the daily diary and the lantern (there was no electricity in those days) from there. Next day, the daroga (station officer) reported to him that there was a dacoity in the thana. When my father put the diary and lantern on his table, the daroga fell at his feet. I learnt to do supervision from him,” he recalls, parked on a sofa in his drawing room. The plan for Tehri Dam began during his tenure as SDM (1972-73) and its first phase got completed when he was the Chief Secretary in Uttarakhand in 2001.

During the Emergency, he was the District Magistrate (DM) in Pratapgarh and did not like the idea of passing on vasectomy targets to his district staff. “I didn’t like the idea of using force. My record was poor and I had to hear reprimands from the Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary,” he reminisces. After the Janata Party came to power in Delhi, the situation turned on its head with the government granting too many concessions to people, even to the detriment of the state. So much so that a minister in Uttar Pradesh—Jamuna Prasad Bose—told people in Banda district publicly that their revenue levy was waived. Gupta, who was leading a revenue collection drive in the district as DM, did not like it. He contradicted the minister and said the collection would go on. “You do not make such an announcement. I told him in as many words,” he narrates. As an outcome of the conflict, Gupta got transferred to the UP Cement Corporation in Churk (Sonbhadra district).

IN August 1980, after a massive communal riot rocked Moradabad, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, dispatched him there. To restore a ‘modicum of governance’, he decided to deal with the situation strictly. He cancelled all curfew passes issued in the district and two joint magistrates went door-to-door to disburse compensation after the violence. The Congress accused him of being anti-Muslim. In October, the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, undertook a tour of the riot-affected areas. Gupta took her around the city and explained how he dealt with the situation. “I had been told something else,” she said, apparently an approval of his actions.

Gupta got validation of his impartiality on his transfer a few months later when the then head of the panchayat in Karbala and Karula, Muslim villages located on the outskirts of Moradabad which were the worst-affected in the riots, gifted him a brass idol of Goddess Durga as a token of love. The farewell gift was proof of how much gap could exist between reality and perception.

Since his father, Anandswarup, was ill and showed no signs of improvement, he looked for a posting near Delhi to get him treated in the national capital. However, much to his chagrin, the state administration put him in Gorakhpur. His father stopped him from quitting. “I told him I would like to resign. He said duty should come first,” he recalls. Anandswarup passed away a month-and-a-half later. His next posting was as Administrator and Vice-Chairman of Lucknow Development Authority (LDA). This came after Indira Gandhi spotted garbage in the state capital during her visit there sometime in 1981 and the state government wanted an efficient officer to remove the mess.

During widening of a chowk in the city, he wanted to demolish a small temple. But Swaroop Kumari Bakshi, the then home minister of the state, opposed this and sat on a dharna. Gupta raised the matter with CM VP Singh, after which the latter told Bakshi in his presence, “Chowk is not your area of responsibility.”

His next posting was as Deputy Secretary in the Planning Commission in Delhi. During this period, his wife developed serious health problems. He wanted to take her abroad for treatment and requested the then Cabinet Secretary, PK Kaul, for a foreign posting. Within less than 72 hours, Kaul ordered his posting in the India Investment Centre at Abu Dhabi. Gupta initiated constitution of an NRI (non-resident Indian) forum, an idea which arguably later culminated in celebration of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

On October 7, 1990, Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, sent him to Faizabad as Divisional Commissioner. The frenzy over the Ram temple was at its peak. On October 30, lakhs of kar sevaks succeeded in sneaking into the division on the call of Hindutva groups. The police had to open fire. Gupta says there was ‘minimal damage to life’ but the press incited passions by coining headlines like ‘Saryu turns red’ with blood of kar sevaks.

FOR Gupta, who was considered anti-Muslim in Moradabad, life came a full circle in Faizabad with the Bharatiya Janata Party and its sister organisations portraying him as anti-Hindu. He faced the worst kind of ostracism. “A price was put on my head. Lawyers stopped visiting my office (in those days DMs and Divisional Commissioners also had judicial powers). A campaign almost succeeded in demonising him for fulfilling his responsibility. So much so, that a lawyer from Gonda who visited his office expressed surprise on meeting him. “You look like me,” he recalls the lawyer having told him. This was the second instance when he realised how wide the gap between reality and perception could be.

Fearing harassment under the BJP Government in Uttar Pradesh, Gupta sought deputation with the Centre in 1992. He got posted as Joint Secretary (Jammu & Kashmir and human rights) in the home ministry. The border state was on the boil with militants calling the shots. Gupta had to liaise with multiple agencies like the police, paramilitary, intelligence, state administration, Ministry of External Affairs and diplomatic missions. But the real challenge came in 1996 when India decided to hold elections in Jammu & Kashmir. There was requirement for 10,000 polling personnel. They were assembled from different parts of the country with a local Urdu-speaking person included in every polling party. Bank employees filed a writ against their deployment in the state in Delhi High Court. Gupta argued the case personally in the court before the writ was rejected. Subsequently, Gupta was sent to the United States of America to brief American Senators and journalists on the situation in Jammu & Kashmir. In 1997, the government decided to send him on an Elizabeth House Fellowship on global terrorism to Oxford University. The one year proved to be a good sabbatical for him.

In 2000, after the creation of Uttarakhand, Gupta was allotted the state. He served as Chief Secretary for two years under BJP CM Bhagat Singh Koshiyari and Congress CM ND Tiwari. Subsequently, he was appointed Vice-Chairman of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) on deputation.

In June 2007 he was appointed the Union Home Secretary. On November 24, he went to Islamabad for the annual home secretary talks between the two countries. The team was to return on November 26. But considering the talks were conducted in a cordial atmosphere and the Pakistani Government wanted Gupta to call on the then Pakistani Home (Interior) Minister, his stay was extended for a day. After the meetings, the team was shifted to Murree, a hill station near the Pakistani capital. Just when Gupta was preparing for dinner, he got a call from his daughter, Bhavna. “Bombay mein gangwar ho raha hai (There is a gangwar going on in Bombay).”

Soon, the Cabinet Secretary and the Director Intelligence Bureau (DIB) were on the phone and a special plane was arranged for his return. When he was about to board the plane, the Pakistani liaison officer told him that Deccan Mujahideen had claimed responsibility for the attack. Gupta angrily retorted, “Do you know where Deccan is? Don’t you see the difference between Urdu and Deccan?”

Surprisingly, the media hardly reported the fact that the Home Secretary was in Pakistan when the 26/11 attack began. The incident got Gupta a new Home Minister, with P Chidambaram replacing Shivraj Patil. He was instrumental in formulating CCTNS (crime & criminal tracking networks and systems) and oversaw constitution of COBRA battalions to take on Naxalites. Gupta superannuated on June 30, 2009.

Nobody from the new generation in the Gupta family is into the civil services anymore. They have moved on to professional private services. Gupta attributes it to deterioration in the civil services.

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