Naik and Ponnuswamy on good terms

Vol 3, PW 21 (10 Nov 99) People & Policy

First indications from Indias oil ministry suggest relations between the new minister Ram Naik and his deputy Etienne Ponnuswamy will be free of the destructive rivalry that characterised earlier relationships.

Credit for this goes to the humble and self-effacing nature of Ponnuswamy, a politician from the lower caste Vanniyar community of Tamil Nadu. Vanniyars are labourers, often workers on building sites.

In an informal meeting with a correspondent for this report, Ponnuswamy praised Naik, his boss and the new oil minister from Bombay. "He (Naik) has much more experience than me.

He has been in parliament several times. I will do whatever he tells me to do".

Such subservience is unprecedented in a ministry long accustomed to competing egos between the Minister and his junior Minister of State. Who can forget the stomry meetings between Janeshwar Mishra and his junior TR Baalu Or more recently between Vazhappady Ramamurthy and his junior Santosh Gangwar By contrast, Ponnuswamy is described as a "kind, soft spoken man, who chooses his words carefully".

Our correspondent reports: "He is a very friendly man, very polite. His English is good and he speaks slowly, in a measured tone.

He adopts a fatherly attitude when talking to people younger than him". Aged in the upper 50s, Ponnuswamy is expected to make regular weekend visits to Chidambaram, his parliamentary constituency south of Madras in Tamil Nadu.

His responsibilities in the oil ministry are unclear. He held his first briefing with oil ministry officials on Tuesday, 2nd November.

Traditionally, a Minister of State assumes responsibility for downstream matters.