Ram Naik groomed for higher office

Vol 4, PW 3 (15 Mar 00) People & Policy

The corridors of India's oil and gas ministry are abuzz with rumours that the oil minister, Ram Naik, might soon be on his way out.

A source with good contacts in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee tells a correspondent for this report there is increasing talk in the party that Naik will take up the post of BJP party president when the present incumbent, Keshubhahu Thakre, steps down at the end of his tenure on May 15th. A second source in the oil ministry confirms there are discussions underway within the BJP over the merits of appointing Naik to a high-level party position.

Naik's credentials for the post of BJP party president are impeccable. A staunch Vajpayee loyalist, he is deeply wedded to the party.

If he gets the posthe will most certainly leave the oil ministry and devote all his time to party work. A third source tells this report that a powerful Indian industrial group is behind the move to shift Naik out of the oil ministry because he refuses to do what he is told.

For many it won't be difficult to guess who the company is. In his time as oil minister, Naik has been a steadfast supporter of the Bina refinery project in Madhya Pradesh, promoted jointly by Bharat Petroleum and Oman Oil Company.

He was instrumentalin persuading Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel to grant the project environmental clearance last month, something that has been holding up the project's development. Naik has also been a steadfast supporter of Indian Oil Corporation's attempt to bid in the government's disinvestment of Indian Petrochemicals Corporation (IPCL).

This has not pleased others in the race.