My removal from the post was not under U.S. pressure, says Mani Shankar Aiyar

The former Union Minister, Mani Shankar Aiyar, has denied that his replacement as Petroleum Minister in 2006 was made under pressure from the United States. Murli Deora was made his successor.

Mr. Aiyar, national convener of the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayati Raj Organisation, said he was given the “additional” and “temporary” charge of the Petroleum Ministry along with that of his main portfolio of Panchayati Raj. Though the “temporary” did not become “permanent,” he said he was lucky that it lasted 20 months.

“But, the Americans were happy when I was replaced as Petroleum Minister,” Mr. Aiyar told reporters at the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters here on Monday, in response to a query on the WikiLeaks report, which referred to the “U.S. hand” behind his removal as Petroleum Minister. He stated, nevertheless, that he did an “outstanding job” as Petroleum Minister.

Gas pipeline project

Stating that he was a strong advocate of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and wanted it to be extended to China, Mr. Aiyar hinted that the U.S. had not been comfortable with the proposal. “In the meantime, the Americans had a quarrel with Iran, although their tiff did not apply to India,” the former career diplomat said. He had opposed U.S. intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq and though he was not “anti-US,” he was certainly “pro-India.”

Mr. Aiyar, who was in Lucknow in connection with the meeting of the district representatives of the State Panchayati Raj organisation of the Congress, said that 5-lakh grassroots-level workers would be enlisted in Uttar Pradesh. Some progress had been made towards this end, but with the State Assembly elections due next year, efforts were being made to mobilise local workers to help the Congress win the polls.

Mr. Aiyar said a reform in Panchayati Raj institutions was the greatest need in Uttar Pradesh. Compared with Haryana, Bihar, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, where good progress had been made, the implementation of the system in Uttar Pradesh was poor. Although Panchayati Raj rules in U.P. were good and some officials knew their job the effort was lacking, he said.

He lauded Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi for his initiative towards motivating the party organisation. Now young people were coming into the system, Mr. Aiyar added.

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