Three in the race to replace Aiyar as oil minister

Vol 8, PW 9 (28 Jul 04) People & Policy

Mani Shankar Aiyar will remain Indias oil minister for some time longer.

Delhis grapevine predicted that Aiyar would lose his oil ministry job in a cabinet reshuffle on 25th July. But the reshuffle never took place.

Yet, it could still only be a matter of days before India gets a new oil minister. Not because Aiyar has suddenly run out of favour with the ruling Congress party leadership.

He hasnt. But ever since he was appointed on 24th May, he has made it clear that he is holding additional charge of the oil ministry and that he prefers the job of minister for local self-government, which he also holds.

Intense lobbying is underway to replace Aiyar. Names of at least three prominent Congress leaders are cited, among them MPs Satish Sharma, RK Dhawan and Mohsina Kidwai.

Which of them stands the best chance Congress party bosses are unsure. Former oil minister Satish Sharmas reputation was irreparably damaged over the award of the Panna, Mukta and Tapti oil and gasfields to earlier disgraced operator Enron.

Today, Congress is under intense scrutiny over its appointment of ministers with a criminal past and wants to avoid renewed criticism following a spate of recent controversies. Dhawans reputation is no better as he is widely regarded as a fixer and Nehru-Gandhi family loyalist who was rewarded with a parliamentary seat.

That leaves only Mohsina Kidwai. But she is seen as a non-performer.

The oil portfolio will be a waste on her, reveals a source. She wont make money for herself or for the party.

Another name circulating is that of present shipping minister TR Baalu of the Tamil Nadu-based DMK - a key member of the ruling United Progressive Alliance. The DMK complains that it has not received any important portfolios in the present government and wants Baalu in the job, particularly given his past experience as a junior oil minister.