Vol 2, PW 26 (20 Jan 99) People & Policy

It is now an open secret that Vazhappadi Ramamurthy, Indias oil minister, is living on borrowed time.

In Delhi, pundits openly claim that prime minister Vajpayee has singled him out as one of a handful of ministers to be replaced in a forthcoming cabinet expansion. Intense pressure on Vajpayee from Ramamurthys estranged ally, Jayalalitha, former chief minister of Tamil Nadu and leader of the AIADMK party, has forced the move.

Jayalalitha ("Amma") has long been demanding Ramamurthys head: a cabinet reshuffle was scheduled for 15 January but has now been postponed indefinitely. One reason for this has been pressure on Vajpayee from another of his troublesome allies: this time a woman by the name of Mamata Banerjee, leader of the Trinamul Congress, based in West Bengal and formally part of the mainstream Congress party.

Until now, Banerjee a firebrand from Calcutta, has assiduously distanced herself from the BJP and refused offers from Vajpayee to join the cabinet. In recent weeks, however, she has changed her tune, and now wants charge of the Railways Ministry, so she can score political capital in her home state of West Bengal.

If she doesnt get what she wants, shes threatening to withdraw support. Vajpayee is in a fix.

The current Minister of Railways, Nitish Kumar, is a highly respected member of his cabinet. He is also in the same party as George Fernandes, the PMs trouble-shooter and confidant.

If Vajpayee fires Kumar, he may well lose Fernandes too. Whichever way it works, Indias cabinet will soon be in for a minor overhaul.

For oil companies, itll mean a new face in the ministry. POSTSCRIPT:- Political circles in Chennai are buzzing with rumours that Ramamurthy will be replaced by Dindugul Srinivasan, a close associate of Jayalalitha.

Srinivasan has been a member of the AIADMK party since the early 1970s and is currently an AIADMK member of the Lok Sabha (parliament). Srinivasan, a lawyer by qualification, has a trade union background.

He is said to be simple, mild mannered and affable but nobody speaks highly of his morals. Jayalalitha has long insisted that Srinivasan be given a post in the cabinet.

As for Ramamurthy, one report suggests he may not be fired but tansferred to another ministry.