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Why was Mani Shankar shunted?

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: January 30, 2006 19:19 IST
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India on Monday denied that Washington had pressured it to remove Mani Shankar Aiyar as the Union petroleum minister. Rumours were flying thick and fast that Aiyar's reluctance to toe the American line on the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India (via Pakistan) might have prompted the United States to demand his removal from the post.

Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natrajan said: "The Congress party is one hundred years old and it has fought for the freedom of the party and it has its presence in every nook and corner of the country."

"We know what is best in the interest of the nation. India is a sovereign country and it takes its own independent decisions. There was no pressure from any quarter," she said.

Aiyar had vigorously pursued the Iran gas pipeline project and had even gone against the decision of the ministry of external affairs over the issue.

Even though the government did not take a categorical stand on the matter, Aiyar on a number of occasions told the media that in spite of all odds things are on the right track.

The other theory doing the rounds is that Murli Deora, the new Union petroleum minister, is a close associate of the Ambani brothers and would be able to clinch deals and bring in money, which his predecessor failed to do.

And, of course, there is the all too famous spat between Aiyar and Subir Raha, chairman and managing director of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.

Observers say that even though Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not recommend Aiyar's removal from the petroleum ministry, she did not oppose the move either.

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi

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