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The murky world of Matang Sinh

By Nitin Gokhale
February 05, 2015 14:19 IST
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During his stint as MoS in the Narasimha Rao PMO Matang Sinh developed contacts in the bureaucracy which stood him in good stead even when out of power, says Nitin Gokhale

Anil Goswami, sacked as home secretary by the Union government on Wednesday, February 4, paid the ultimate cost for being too close to Matang Sinh, a minister of state in the Prime Minister's Office under P V Narasimha Rao.

Many IAS and IPS officers must be trying to cover the tracks that might show up their proximity to the controversial former minister.

Sinh, who ran a television station in Guwahati until some years ago, emerged on Assam's political scene out of nowhere when he won a Rajya Sabha seat defeating the official Congress candidate in the early 1990s during Hiteshwar Saikia's tenure as chief minister.

Within less than a year as a Rajya Sabha member from Assam, he was inducted into Narasimha Rao's PMO, allegedly at the behest of a religious guru-cum-tantrik.

Sinh, originally from Bihar, had made it big in the murky coal business in upper Assam, but his stock rose dramatically after becoming an MoS at the Centre. He would often camp in Guwahati's Brahmaputra Ashok Hotel and hold a durbar attended by a mix of dubious fixers, ministerial aspirants, small and big time politicians.

He loved to boast his high-level connections in Delhi and would often make sure that the media kept him in the limelight by making controversial statements against Saikia.

The durbars used to be an elaborate show of his clout and reach. Often, in the middle of media interactions, he would disappear in an inner room only to emerge a few minutes later to declare that the prime minister was on the phone from the Delhi!

In Delhi too, he had carefully cultivated influential officers, politicians, journalists and senior editors.

It was during his stint as MoS in the Rao PMO that Sinh ('I am Sinh, not Singh,' he would insist) developed contacts in the higher echelons of the bureaucracy which later stood him in good stead even when out of power.

In fact, Sinh continued to strut around in Guwahati even after the Congress lost power in 1996, thanks to his wide-ranging contacts across the political and bureaucratic spectrum.

Goswami is, however, not the first home secretary to have come under Sinh's influence. Another former home secretary, who played a key role in Naga talks post the ceasefire with the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland since 1997, was allegedly a close friend of Matang Sinh.

Married to a journalist in Delhi, Sinh launched a news channel in Guwahati in the late 1990s which soon became a flourishing business.

Gradually, he shifted base to Guwahati. Subsequently, the news channel started floundering as new entrants overtook its appeal. Sinh allegedly also fell out with his wife, who went on to launch a rival channel.

Despite the setback in business, Sinh, rather inexplicably, continued to retain his political clout. In 2013, the home ministry was abuzz with his re-entry into the 'transfers and postings' game at the highest level. Goswami's closeness with Sinh was an open secret, but there was never any concrete proof.

Goswami's fate was sealed when he made that fateful call to Central Bureau of Investigation officers allegedly trying to save Sinh. The National Democratic Alliance government may now want to look at some of the appointments at the highest levels in the paramilitary forces and the home ministry towards the fag end of the United Progressive Alliance-II regime, which, apparently, were done at the behest of Matang Sinh.

Nitin A Gokhale, the well-known security analyst and author, lived and reported from the North-East, based in Guwahati between 1983 and 2006.

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