Naik ready for battle with Kelkar and Narayan

Vol 6, PW 11 (31 Jul 02) People & Policy

ON 1ST AUGUST the widely respected former petroleum secretary Vijay Kelkar takes his place as advisor with the rank of a junior minister in the finance ministry.

Kelkar's job will be to advise Jaswant Singh, the new finance minister. On the same day, another respected former petroleum secretary and now revenue secretary Subbaram Narayan becomes finance secretary.

At first glance, the arrival of these two former oil secretaries in a ministry as crucial as finance is good news. But Delhi's conspiracy theorists think the appointments bode ill for oil minister Ram Naik who has outlived four petroleum secretaries in as many years.

Insiders recall that during his time as oil secretary Narayan "excelled in leading Naik around in circles". By the time Naik got wise, Narayan was out.

As revenue secretary, he "took special care in putting all oil ministry proposals into a spin." We are told of his "particularly unhelpful" role in the dismantling of controlled pricing on 1st April 2002. Ditto the PR fiasco in March when customs wrongfully seized oil tankers from Ravva and Panna-Mukta over cess.

Naik is said to be distinctly unhappy at the prospect of dealing with either Narayan or Kelkar. "Let us see how Narayan reacts to us now," was his gloomy comment on the news.

On Kelkar, opinion is split. Privatisation supporters see him as a messiah who, because of his ministerial rank, will oppose Naik's opposition to the sale of oil PSUs.

"Kelkar is not a traditional bureaucrat," adds a source. "He's a technocrat with pro-business views.

He will advise Jaswant Singh on how to take a tough stand against Naik." In Delhi's corridors of power, Kelkar is regarded as H-positive (pro-Hinduja business group).