New Delhi, Feb. 4: The "put-in-a-word" culture in high places claimed its biggest casualty in recent times when marching orders were issued to the Union home secretary today for trying to stall the arrest of a political has-been in Calcutta in the Saradha scandal.
Home secretary Anil Goswami, the senior-most internal security official in the country, resigned tonight after the Prime Minister and the home minister ticked him off for calling up CBI officials in Calcutta while Matang Sinh, a former Congress minister in the PMO, was being questioned on Saturday.
Matang was arrested later in the day. The very next day CBI sources told PTI, the news agency, that a senior bureaucrat had tried to meddle.
With petitions filed by the Bengal government and Trinamul alleging bias pending in the Supreme Court, the CBI, whose previous chief was taken off the coal allocation case, appeared to have decided not to take any chances.
Rural development secretary L.C. Goyal, a 1979-batch IAS officer of the Kerala cadre, was named as Goswami's successor.
After he was asked to resign, Goswami, a 1978-batch IAS officer of the Jammu and Kashmir cadre, sought voluntary retirement with immediate effect. The government waived the notice period and "curtailed" his tenure.
This is the second "curtailment" at the top in a week. Last Wednesday, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh had been eased out. Both Goswami and Singh had taken charge when the UPA was in power. But unlike in Goswami's case, there was no charge of impropriety against Singh.
Doubts were aired during the day whether the Centre would force Goswami out before the Delhi Assembly elections this Saturday as the home ministry is in charge of security in the state.
However, the elections themselves forced the hand of the government as it was untenable for Goswami to continue after he admitted to home minister Rajnath Singh that he did call CBI officials.
Made to sweat it out by a resurgent AAP, the BJP government did not want to gift the rival more ammunition.
The cost of easing out Goswami was also considerably minimal for the Modi government. One, Goswami was appointed by the UPA and was expendable. Appointed as home secretary in 2013, he turned 60 last month and would have continued till June 30.
Two, so far, no political element has entered the controversy. Goswami is said to have intervened on behalf of Matang because of their personal equation.
Three, the Modi government wanted to reap the gains of "swift and decisive" action.
CBI sources said Goswami had called the special investigation team in Salt Lake on Saturday afternoon and asked about the status of the questioning of Matang.
"He asked us how long the questioning will go on and what time will he be allowed to go. We said Sinh was a suspect and we have evidence against him," said a CBI officer.
Goswami allegedly asked him not to take any action in "haste" as Matang was a respected politician and they knew each other for years.
"We told the home secretary that we take action against a person based on facts and evidence. But he continued to argue with us, saying we should think twice and should not act in haste," the source recounted.
The CBI officials informed agency director Anil Sinha in Delhi, who sought a report.
Today, after meeting Goswami, home minister Rajnath Singh spoke to the CBI director for around 30 minutes. Goswami declined to speak to reporters.
Matang, who has been charged with criminal conspiracy, cheating and misappropriation of funds related to Saradha Realty, was minister of state in the PMO when P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister. Matang wielded considerable influence then.
Matang befriended so many senior officers, including Goswami, that his clout remained intact despite being sacked from the Congress in 2000 for making remarks against Sonia Gandhi.
Matang tried to patch up with Sonia in 2009 but his detractors blocked his re-entry. Of late, poor health and trouble in his marital life have bogged Matang down.