Late Murli Deora too had a five-year stint - from January 2006 to January 2011, as the oil minister but it was split over two governments, both led by the UPA.
Ujjwala-man Dharmendra Pradhan is set to become India’s longest-serving Oil Minister as he set out for a second stint, during which his priorities he said will be to raise domestic oil and gas production, expedite creation of national gas grid and create common market-friendly infrastructure. Pradhan is the only oil minister after Atal Bihari Vajpayee government’s Ram Naik to have completed full five-year term. But unlike Naik, he has been reassigned the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, which he had made a common household name through the free LPG cooking gas connection scheme Ujjwala in the first stint. Late Murli Deora too had a five-year stint – from January 2006 to January 2011, as the oil minister but it was split over two governments, both led by the UPA.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi reposing faith in him again, Pradhan is set to break the records of Naik and Deora to be the longest-serving Oil Minister of the country. Hailing from Odisha, where his almost weekly visits and thousands of public meetings helped create a groundswell for the BJP in the state, he paid obeisance at Shree Jagannath Temple in Puri in the morning before coming to the national capital to take charge as the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas. In Modi 2.0 government, he has also been given additional charge of Ministry of Steel. He took charge of that ministry as well.
“First five years of Modi government had seen several reforms, many projects and many new initiatives in the oil and gas sector. Those will continue and many more reforms will be ushered in,” he told reporters after taking charge as oil minister. The fruit of reforms undertaken during 2014 and 2019 will now be reaped, he said. “Creating a common infrastructure, market-friendly infrastructure will be the priority”. While the Ujjwala scheme helped take cooking gas to almost 90 per cent of households in the country, creating a grid of pipelines will help take the environment-friendly fuel the eastern and southern parts, which were left out of the gas revolution. Natural gas reaching eastern states will help the industralisation of the region and create jobs.
“The work that we did in the last term will be expedited to see a comprehensive completion,” he said, adding city gas projects in 400 towns will be implemented expeditiously. “Many more policy reforms will be ushered in,” he said. Son of former Union minister of state for surface transport, Debendra Pradhan, he steered one of the two biggest social initiative of Modi 1.0 government. Besides providing free cooking gas (LPG) connection to poor women under Ujjwala scheme, the other big social initiative was to provide electricity connection to every household in the country. While he micromanaged implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjawla Yojana to see LPG customer base more than double to 26 crore in just five years, he kept Odisha central to his political priorities and virtually drove many a project in the oil ministry to the state. A tough taskmaster, Pradhan was picked to head the high-stake Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas when Prime Minister Modi first rode to power in 2014. He overhauled controversy-riddled oil and gas sector but kept touring his home state virtually every week during the last five years, building a base for the BJP. This paid off when BJP clinched 8 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in Odisha, up from just one in 2014. It also improved tally in the state assembly to 23 from 10 previously. Back in 2000, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s BJD contested assembly elections in alliance with the BJP. Pradhan won from Pallahara seat, news that Patnaik reportedly greeted with, ‘Oh! I’ve got a problem’.
Pradhan was little known then and was just an activist of the BJP’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), and a former student union leader of Utkal University. But Patnaik, who some say ‘x-ray’ eyes, saw in him a potential threat who could breach his citadel. Almost two decades later, the chief minister’s judgment is proving correct as the BJP put up a spirited challenge his uninterrupted reign. Pradhan became an MP in 2004 after successfully contesting from the Deogarh parliamentary constituency. He, however, lost the 2009 assembly elections but then the hardworking and ambitious Pradhan made enough contacts in the nation’s capital to build a successful political career.
He first became the BJP national secretary and then the general secretary. By 2012, he got elected to Rajya Sabha from Bihar. And when Modi swept to power in 2014 polls, he was made union minister of state for petroleum and natural gas with independent charge. He again has been made a cabinet minister in Modi 2.0 government. It was virtually because of Pradhan’s ceaseless efforts that the BJP made deep inroads into the BJD-ruled state, eating into the vote-share of Naveen Patnaik-led BJD.
The saffron party’s vote-share in the state registered a substantial rise from 21.88 per cent in 2014 to 38.4 per cent this time, while that of the BJD dropped to 42.8 per cent from 44.77 per cent. Pradhan, who did not contest the just-concluded elections, was seen touring every nook and corner of Odisha to bolster the poll prospects of the BJP candidates.
He coordinated electioneering in all Lok Sabha and assembly constituencies in the state, trying to keep a tab on the pulse of the voters. Just after the first phase of the four-phase elections in the state, the 50-year-old Union minister had announced a dal-salt-rice package for the poor. It was seen as a masterstroke by many, as the promise did not figure in the BJP’s manifesto for the state.