People in the packed Rae Bareli court were stunned this Friday when IPS officer Anju Gupta swore in the name of ‘Maryada Purushottam Bhagwan Ram’ and the Constitution of India. She was, after all, deposing on the politically and communally sensitive Babri masjid demolition case. She went on to tell the court how the kar sevaks near Babri masjid exhorted the cops to raise the slogan ‘Jai Shri Ram’ with a sense of militancy, and not with reverence.
There was no sarcasm in her voice. Ram is her ‘aradhya dev’ (principal deity). But the 45-year-old 1990-batch UP-cadre IPS officer, who is now serving at the Cabinet Secretariat in Delhi, didn’t let the personal come in the way of the official. No wonder, she is the only officer chosen as a witness against the architects of the Ram temple movement — Lal Krishna Advani and company — from among the thousands deployed in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Those who know her expected no less. She is said to have confided to some of her friends: “This case is not about mandir or masjid, politics or secularism. It’s about the rule of law. Mobs can’t dictate terms.”
Even former UP chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who became Gupta’s sworn enemy when she refused to accept his writ over the recruitment of cops in the state, once told this writer that Gupta was “rigid but bold”.
Gupta made it to the cover of every women’s magazine after those fateful days in Ayodhya when she saved several journalists and photographers from being bashed up by the kar sevaks, rescued several Muslim families trapped in their blazing homes, and finally cleared the kar sevaks from the town on the morning of December 8.
A few months later, Gupta married Safi Ahsan Rizvi, a graduate in economics from St Stephens’ College and an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad who is now officer on special duty to Home Minister P. Chidambaram. The two met at the Civil Services Academy, which Rizvi entered after giving up his previous job as an investment banker — and they married despite opposition at home.
At work, though she got the charge of key districts such as Lucknow (the first woman superintendent of police in the city), Pratapgarh, Kanpur, Meerut, Lalitpur and Ghaziabad, Gupta could hardly stay at one post for long.
Blame it on politics. People in Pratapgarh recall how she broke the backbone of Raja Bhaiyya’s mafia empire by sitting through all the liquor auctions that he monopolised. Then she got transferred the day she submitted a dossier on Raja Bhaiyya to the DGP.
Gupta once wrote in an article titled ‘Public (dis)order: Witnessing live’: “As a thinking adult, I first took notice of a big event in politics on 31st October 1984, the day Mrs Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The carnage that followed the tragic murder of the great leader shook me… As a young student, it took me some time to see that at the core of the failure was the failure of the state. Today, as an IPS officer, my first reaction still is to take the moral blame for being part of such a system/society that tolerates such barbaric behaviour.”
It’s the system that she’s still trying to change — from the inside.