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Who Is Dinkar Gupta, the Former Punjab Top Cop Heading the NIA Now?

Gupta played a key role in tackling gangsters and busting terror modules during his long stint in the border state but a succession war dragged him into controversies too.

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Chandigarh: In a January 2018 tweet, then Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh had words of high praise for a select few police officers after dreaded gangster Vicky Gounder was killed.

The man supervising the operation was the state intelligence head Dinkar Gupta, under whose watch a number of notorious gangsters were killed and many cases of targeted killings were closed.

A 1987-batch Punjab cadre Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Gupta has kept a low profile for the most part of his 35-year professional career. He has been at the centre of curiosity after the Union government cleared his appointment as the new head of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on June 23.

With this, he became the first Punjab cadre police officer to head a premium central agency. He will hold the post until March 31, 2024, the date of his retirement.

As NIA chief, he will be overseeing some high-profile cases immediately. The NIA has taken over the investigations into the alleged targeted killings of people who supported Nupur Sharma in Rajasthan’s Udaipur and Maharastra’s Amravati.

A special NIA court today charged 26 year old Mujeeb Ahmed on terrorism charges Credit : PTI/ Representational

Representative Image of NIA officers. Photo: PTI/Files

But his long stint in Punjab has been a mixed bag of achievements and controversies.

The Chandigarh-born officer was commissioned at the height of militancy in Punjab in the late 80s. He had his first challenging job as the senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Ludhiana, before heading the district police in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur between 1992 and 97.

His service during the militancy in Punjab helped Gupta develop a knack for counter-intelligence, which was sharpened during his eight-year stint in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) as part of Central deputation between 2004 and 2012.

Upon his return to his home cadre, he headed the Punjab police’s law and order, internal security and intelligence wings as the additional director general of police (ADGP).

As DGP (Intelligence) between 2017 and 2019, Gupta was involved in the direct supervision of the Punjab State Intelligence Wing, State Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and Organised Crime Control Unit (OCCU).

He groomed a team of officers to take on organised crime. As a result, 21 of 38 dreaded “A-lister gangsters” were either arrested or killed during that time.

Concerns about a revival in gangs have been heightened after the murder of Singer Sidhu Moosewala. But during Gupta’s stint as intelligence chief, gangster culture and radical elements were kept in check.

This was perhaps why he was appointed as Punjab police chief in February 2019, replacing his mentor Suresh Arora. While the sacrilege-related investigations remained inconclusive during his two-year tenure as DGP, Gupta led technology-based operations to bust more than 50 terror modules.

Gupta was quick to recognise a new type of cross-border threat from Pakistan: drones transporting arms and drugs across the border. He stepped up the intelligence network and arrested several ISI-backed local handlers to mitigate the growing threat, which is still looming large.

In February this year, the Punjab government informed the parliamentary committee on home affairs that drones were sighted near the Pakistan border over 133 times in the last two years.

Former DGP Suresh Arora, under whom Gupta received training after his induction into the IPS in 1987, told The Wire that drones are a new method of proxy war.

Arora said because Gupta joined the service at the peak of terrorism in Punjab, he was fully exposed to the ground situation. “Then his stint in the IB and holding other important posts sharpened his intel skills, which helped the state in tackling organised crime. I am sure he will continue to do well in the NIA as well,” he added.

Succession war within top police brass became dirty

In police circles, Gupta is known for being a backroom strategist with a cool approach. But he was in the middle of severe allegations after five senior officers were superseded and Gupta was appointed as the state DGP in 2019.

One of those officers, Sidharth Chattopadhyaya, challenged Gupta’s appointment before the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT). He alleged in an April 2019 petition that Gupta, while on deputation to the IB, had conducted illegal surveillance in March 2012 and was unceremoniously removed and repatriated.

The Punjab government, however, rejected these allegations and told the CAT that Gupta was repatriated to the state government on its request and not on the basis of any allegations against him.

Another senior officer Mohammad Mustafa, who was also superseded when Gupta was appointed DGP, was a co-petitioner with Chattopadhyaya before the CAT.

The CAT quashed his appointment in January 2020, observing that there cannot be a better instance of arbitrariness and favouritism than this.

But days later, the Punjab and Haryana high court stayed the CAT order based on a plea by the Punjab government. Then in November 2020, the HC also upheld Gupta’s appointment by overturning the CAT order.

Later, the Supreme Court junked the appeals filed by Mustafa and Chattopadhyaya challenging the HC’s order

While Chattopadhyaya could not be reached for fresh comments, Mustafa told The Wire that he has nothing more to say as he has retired from the service.

Dinkar Gupta with then Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh. Photo: Twitter

Sidelined after Captain’s exit

Needless to say, Gupta, who was decorated with various awards including the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Services in 2011, got a lot of backing from the then chief minister Amarinder Singh

His wife, Vini Mahajan, a 1987-batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, was serving as Punjab chief secretary while Gupta was the state’s DGP.

This earned them the epithet of “power couple” in many media headlines.

Amarinder Singh himself defended the couple’s appointment against opposition from some quarters that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval played a role in the appointment of Mahajan as the new chief secretary.

“Who is Doval to play a role in the matter? I have selected the best and most competent officer,” the CM said in a statement on January 30, 2021

Gupta was unceremoniously removed as the Punjab DGP in October 2020 after Singh was forced to resign as Punjab CM and was then replaced by Charanjit Singh Channi due to an internal turmoil in the Congress.

Gupta was posted as chairman of the Punjab police Housing Corporation before coming back into the limelight as the NIA chief last month.

His wife Vini Mahajan, who too was sidelined after Singh’s exit, is now on central deputation as a secretary in the Ministry of Jal Shakti.