Aiyar gives Deora tips on his new job as oil minister

Vol 9, PW 21 (09 Feb 06) People & Policy
     

Disappointed Mani Shankar Aiyar was no doubt shocked to hear Murli Deora was replacing him as oil minister.

But he didnt show it. On 30th January Aiyar introduced 69-year old Deora to the press as his old friend.

Minutes before, Aiyar had spent 45 minutes with Deora briefing him on his new job and, importantly, how to deal with the pack of journalists he was about to confront, in this, his first ministerial position. Deoras initial announcement was a surprise, clearly influenced by his discussion with Aiyar: he said he would appoint an official ministry spokesman to plug the leak of sensitive documents from Shastri Bhawan, an increasing cause of concern to Aiyar and others, whose confidential letters and papers are routinely published on the internet and the press, often before they reach the ministers desk! Leaks aside, Aiyars transfer signals a paradigm shift in Indias energy policy.

Deora is a member of Indias upper house (Rajya Sabha) and a loyal Congress apparatchik from Maharashtra. Friendly with the private sector, in particular Reliance, he is a vocal advocate of closer US-Indian ties, which he promotes vigorously as co-chair of an Indo-US parliamentary forum aimed at strengthening ties between the worlds two largest democracies.

Deoras website (http://www.murlideora.com/) describes him as an industrialist by profession. Surprisingly, he avoids any mention of himself as an MP.

Unlike Aiyar, he is low-key. Questioned by journalists, he shied away: I am new to this ministry, he said.

It is premature to comment. I must learn a lot over the coming weeks.

Still, Deora went out of his way to welcome journalists and strike a rapport, unlike Aiyar, who often brushed them aside as an unavoidable nuisance. We need you more than you need us, said Deora.

What little Deora said left no one in any doubt about his links to corporate India. He stressed his commitment to a level playing field for the private sector but also pledged to help state-run companies - burdened by subsidies stem their losses in a climate of rising oil prices.