Ram Naik: Indiaآ’s new oil and gas minister

Vol 3, PW 20 (27 Oct 99) People & Policy

Two days after his appointment as oil minister, Ram Naik, gave a 20-minute telephone interview to a correspondent for this report.

"It is because of my image and hard work that I have been given this important ministry," he said, "Ministers holding this portfolio have in the past got a bad image across the country. You know about this.

It will be my endeavour to give a fair name to the ministry and work with transparency". Naik, aged 63, has represented the Bombay North constituency since 1995.

"My effort is to ensure that domestic oil production goes up through the exploitation of identified areas such as the northeast where we have not been able to do much due to security problems. Another area is to crack down on adulteration of diesel and kerosene.

I will give my utmost priority to this areas". Naik has a commerce degree and studied law and accountancy.

He started his political career in the north Bombay suburb of Goregaon, where he lives with his wife - a retired schoolteacher - and their two daughters. "He is a very clever man who knows how to work the BJP power structure," said a colleague, "He is self-centred and loves to have yes-men around him".

Our correspondent adds: "Naik enjoys an image of being a Spartan worker. He is fond of publicity and knows the value of good public relations".

His son-in-law, Chandrashekar Kulkarni, is a reporter in the Marathi language newspaper Loksatta, part of the Indian Express group. Naiks opponents in the party say he is ruthless.

Unlike most politicians, scandal has not spoilt his name. The nearest he came was as during the Essel World project a plan to construct an amusement park in Naiks parliamentary constituency.

Initially a vehement opponent, he stunned his supporters by overnight announcing a change of heart to become the projects most vocal supporter. Naiks personal assistant is his daughter Vishakha Kulkarni who acts as a liaison agent.

Another less trusted member of his coterie is Vikas Agwekar. In 1996, Naik was diagnosed with intestinal cancer but fought the condition and is now cured.

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