Thiruvananthapuram: As reports of the gold smuggling case surfaced, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan first gave a clean chit to M. Sivasankar, his now sacked principal secretary and also the IT secretary. But as things turned hot, Vijayan removed him from the two posts and when the case became murkier, he suspended him from service.
A senior IAS official, Sivasankar was the main man in the Chief Minister's Office and hence it was natural that Vijayan would defend him.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the case, will soon question him.
The NIA has the custody of the prime accused P.S. Sarith, Swapna Suresh, Sandip Nair and their relations with Sivasankar are now out in the open.
Vijayan who took a tough position initially, seems to be backing down. At the CPI-M's state secretariat meeting held here on Friday, he was in a defensive mode - probably for the first time since he took over in 2016.
The CPI-M state secretary always has an invisible grip over their government and this was very visible when V.S. Achuthanandan was the Chief Minister (2006-11) and Vijayan was the party secretary.
The tiff between the two at that time made headlines and at one point of time, both were removed from the politburo and later only Vijayan was reinstated.
But after Vijayan became Chief Minister in 2016, he has reigned supreme and the present party secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan plays second fiddle.
However, after Friday's CPI-M party meet, though Balakrishnan said they are strongly behind Vijayan and his government, inside reports indicate that the party is not happy with the way things have transpired in his office.
This unhappiness was visible when reports surfaced that the state government will examine all the consultancies given to various agencies and the staff members attached to Sivasankar's office were transferred out.
What has hit Vijayan very hard is that Sivasankar was responsible for posting main accused Swapna in a prime post in the IT department with a huge salary, despite her being just a Class X pass.
The probe has now begun about her graduation certificate which was produced to get her the IT job.
Meanwhile, the Kerala Crime Branch is also on the backfoot, as they were dilly dallying in completing a probe ordered by the Kerala High Court in 2018, where an Air India official had to face the heat based on a fake letter, which he believed was fabricated by Swapna and her close aides.
The NIA team is now collecting evidence against the accused from the capital city, where the smuggling gang operated.
The Customs which first arrested Swapna and Sandip has already questioned Sivasankar for close to nine hours and the NIA which is yet to quiz the IAS officer is expected to serve a notice to him shortly.
With Vijayan also washing his hands off Sivasankar, it remains to be seen what would be the course of investigation as both the Congress and the BJP have already demanded that the office of Vijayan be included in the probe.
The gold smuggling case which has large ramifications first surfaced when Sarith, a former employee of the UAE Consulate here, was arrested by the Customs Department on July 5 when he was facilitating smuggling of 30 kg gold in diplomatic baggage to Thiruvananthapuram from Dubai.
It turned murkier when the name of Swapna Suresh, a former employee of the UAE Consulate here and employed with the state IT Department, surfaced. The case turned full circle when their links with Sivasankar were revealed.