When the CBI arrested Matang Sinh last month in the Saradha scam, it showed the unholy nexus between politicos and bureaucrats and how each used the other to further their personal interests [/h2]
By Vishwas Kumar
The Saradha scam has implicated many people in high places. But when the CBI arrested former Union minister Matang Sinh on charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation of funds, it shook quite a few people. For, he was an influential man, with his tentacles spread far and wide in the national capital’s corridors of power. And that included former prime minister
Manmohan Singh, whom Sinh had “helped” in May 2007. That’s when Singh was trying to enter the Rajya Sabha (RS) as an MP from Assam. He was the sitting PM and any reversal of his election could have created a political turmoil. It was natural for the PM’s political managers to be a little nervous, especially as Matang Sinh, a former Congressman, had filed his nomination for the same seat as an “independent” candidate.
In Assam politics, Sinh could not be taken lightly. He had the reputation of being a maverick, a money-bag and a power-broker with enough ability to block the smooth passage of the PM’s nomination. A backroom negotiation ensued between him and Singh’s managers and Sinh quietly withdrew his nomination. This was a “master-stroke” by him to get a toe-hold in the corridors of power. After all, an “obliged” PM could bring him many benefits.
Both were no strangers to each other. Both had the same political godfather—the late Congress veteran and former prime minister Narasimha Rao—and had served in his cabinet in 1993. Though their relationship had soured during Rao’s days, it saw an upturn when Sinh opted out of the RS election. The first concrete evidence of their closeness emerged in 2012, when the home ministry tried to scale down Sinh’s “Z” category security cover, which he had surprisingly continued to enjoy since his days as a cabinet minister in 1993. However, the ministry had to backtrack after Singh intervened, along with then Bihar governor Devanand Konwar and Digvijaya Singh, both of whom said his security should be continued.
Former home secretary, Anil Goswami, owed his appointment to Matang Sinh
Saradha Group chairman, Sudipto Sen, being produced in Alipore Court in Kolkata
With Singh’s backing, Sinh continued to expand his network in the capital. So, when the home secretary’s post was to fall vacant in June 2013 due to the retirement of incumbent RK Singh, he pulled a coup. In a rare development, two months before the scheduled vacancy, the name of a new home secretary, Anil Goswami, a 1978-batch IAS officer of the J&K cadre, was cleared by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, headed by Singh. It is believed that the announcement was made in advance to pre-empt any “last-minute” challenges from other “lobbyists” within the government and the Congress party.
The announcement took everyone by surprise and political-bureaucratic circles were abuzz with the news that Sinh had “swung” the posting in Goswami’s favor through his “personal contact” with Singh.
This was the second time Sinh had helped Goswami get a posting in the home ministry. His first tenure there lasted from
2010-2012, when, as additional secretary or special secretary, he was instrumental in putting in place an ambitious scheme called Immigration, Visa, Foreigners Registration and Tracking. He also procured the latest weapons, equipment and vehicles for paramilitary and state police forces. It is likely that both got acquainted when Goswami was a junior IAS officer when Sinh was minister.
This was also the time, when, in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attack, a conscious decision was taken by home ministry mandarins to scale up “internal” security and modernize the forces. This required greater purchase of arms and ammunitions and technologies. The annual budget of the ministry for “internal security” was `39,000 crore for 2013-14. A major portion of it went into purchases. And as in the defense sector, there is intense lobbying to get lucrative contracts. These lobbyists, in turn, “influence” transfers and postings of key officials there.
But the moot question is: Why did Sinh help Goswami? There are many reasons—to get help for his own criminal cases; to lobby for defense contracts in the home ministry and to run a lucrative transfer and posting racket.
Both Matang Sinh and Manmohan Singh were ministers in the Narasimha Rao government. Later, in 2007, Sinh withdrew his Rajya Sabha candidature from Assam, to oblige Singh.
According to home ministry sources, the CBI, after Sinh’s arrest, is looking into all purchases made during Goswami’s two tenures in the ministry. It is alleged that one company got several lucrative contracts allegedly under Sinh’s influence. His personal secretary, Khyati Saddana, who had no previous business background but is now a director in some of his companies, has also been questioned by the CBI for her alleged role in various deals. The CBI is also trying to unravel all the key postings in the home ministry which were “managed” by the Sinh-Goswami duo. There are many paramilitary forces directly under the ministry, including the BSF, CRPF, CISF and NIA. Also, all police forces of Union Territories, such as the Delhi Police, come under its jurisdiction.
It’s no wonder, then, that it wasn’t Goswami alone who called CBI director Anil Sinha to stop “Sinh’s” arrest; the head of a paramilitary force did too. The third person who tried to scuttle his arrest was a joint director in the CBI. While Goswami lost his job after the prime minister got wind of his “interference”, the other two are still continuing in their job.
Even though the home ministry doesn’t directly control the CBI, it has considerable influence over it, as all IPS officers posted there on deputation have to be cleared by it. Sinh desperately needed key men in this ministry and the CBI, not only for “influence peddling” but also to “protect” him from mounting criminal cases registered against him for his alleged role in the Saradha scam.
It was Sinh’s marriage to Delhi-based journalist, Manoranjana, in the 90s that proved to be the turning point of his life. Both met when Sinh was in Rao’s cabinet in charge of parliamentary affairs and she was a journalist covering the beat. Both husband and wife obtained television licenses in 2003 and founded the NETV (North East Television), the first news channel to be launched to cover the region. The channel went on air on March 16, 2004, and became a successful venture, expanding to two more channels—NE Hi Fi, an entertainment channel, and NE Bangla.
While Manoranjana contributed editorially, Sinh used his extensive connections in the North-East, especially Assam, where he had business and political connections, to finance the channel.
However, when the couple’s marriage started collapsing in 2007, the channel too started floundering. Their dispute spilled out into the open and reached courtrooms, as they filed criminal and civil cases against each other. Worse, both spilled the beans on each other, leading to further trouble.
What was common to both were their “financial” and “personal” dealings with Sara-dha Group chairman Suditpo Sen. This was revealed in April 2013, when Sen wrote a letter to the CBI saying that he had given Rs. 28 crore to Sinh to acquire a Bengali television channel— NE Bangla. The deal didn’t conclude and Sinh didn’t return the money, Sen alleged. Further, he said that he had given money to Manoran-jana for acquiring rights of her TV channel. The agency quizzed her.
Sinh lived life king-size and cultivated the image of a power-broker, complete with fierce-looking commandoes and a pilot car with a red beacon. He would hold cocktail parties in his bungalow in Doctor’s Lane near Lutyens Delhi and at his farmhouse in Chhattarpur, which were well-attended by friends, businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats.
Despite being out of power for two decades, his power among the bureaucracy and politicians was not dented. What’s more, the Saradha scam isn’t the first controversy Sinh finds himself in. In 1998, he was expelled from the Congress for allegedly using “unparliamentary” language against Congress president Sonia Gandhi on a TV channel because he was not being re-elected to the RS a second time.
Journalist Manoranjana, Sinh’s estranged wife, was in cahoots in many wrong deals
In 2011, he attempted to return to the Congress fold, but his entry was nixed at the last moment when the Enforcement Directorate, Income Tax and CBI registered a case against him and raided his offices and homes. Though party general secretary Digvijaya Singh had supported Sinh’s entry, he was forced to drop him after the raids. In July 2013, Sinh was chargesheeted by the CBI for not returning a Rs. 67-crore loan to a public sector bank.
Little is known of his early life, except what his website claims: He was born on August 22, 1962, to SP Sinh and Rani Rukmani Sinh in Hijoguri, Tinsukia, Assam. However, even this has been disputed by media reports, which claim he was born in Bihar and later came to Assam to do business. He started dabbling in politics from his student days, joined the Congress and in 1990, became chairman of the labor cell of the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. During the Assam assembly elections in 1991, he claims to have become “personally acquainted with Rajiv Gandhi. In 1992, he was elected to the RS from Assam.
And from there started his spiral to power and then, his downfall.