|Published: September 2017|
New Delhi. Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman formally assumed charge as the new Defence Minister of India September 7. She is also the first woman to hold this highly important portfolio full time.
She was nominated to the Ministry in the Cabinet reshuffle four days ago, but had to wait as her predecessor, Mr Arun Jaitley, was attending a pre-scheduled bilateral dialogue in Tokyo about the coming visit here this month of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Mrs Sitharaman specified modernisation of the armed forces and their preparedness as her top priority saying also that it would be her effort to sort out any loong-pending issues, welfare of Service families and boost production of military ware within the country in accordance with the Government’s Make in India policy. “I will address all long pending issues in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.”
Mr Jaitley, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre, Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, Defence Secretary (Production) AK Gupta, Chairman DRDO & Secretary Defence R&D Dr S Christopher and other senior Ministry officials were present during the takeover ceremony.
Before elevation to the Cabinet rank in the reshuffle on September 3, she was Minister of State for Commerce where she did deal with foreign governments and global defence companies but in the perspective of trade and commerce through joint ventures and Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).
The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also held the Defence portfolio, twice in fact, but only as additional charge.
Known for her oratory and pleasant demeanor, Mrs Sitharaman will now be a member of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by the Prime Minister. Its other members are Ministers of External Affairs, Home, and Finance.
Mrs Sitharaman will take charge of her new office after a few days, as the current Defence Minister Arun Jaitley was leaving for Tokyo (Sep 3) for a pre-scheduled dialogue on security matters in preparation for the coming visit here of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month. “ It is a very important security dialogue between the two countries ahead of the Japanese Prime Minister’s visit and therefore changes are not advisable. I will continue for the next couple of days to complete the dialogue.”
Mrs Sitharaman told newsmen that she was humbled by her recognition by the party (ruling BJP) “which overwhelms me.”
Her appointment in the Defence Ministry did come as a surprise though.
Looking at it, as they say, India is literally fielding double woman power in tackling the security challenges from neighbours particularly.
Defence and Diplomacy go together, and both these portfolios are now in the hands of two very able women.
Her senior colleague, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, has already been engaged in replying to the Chinese verbal assaults in the recent past over Beijing’s attempts to capture Doklam. It would be Mrs Sitharaman’s job now to speed up the nearly paralyzed defence modernization and acquisition process to secure India’s future.
Mr Bhamre continues to be Minister of State for Defence.
Official Profile issued by the Ministry of Defence
Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman was born on 18th August 1959 in the temple town of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. She did her schooling and her graduation in Economics, from Seethalakshmi Ramaswamy College in Tiruchirapalli. She went on to do her Masters in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Indo-European Textile Trade was the focus of her draft Ph. D thesis.
Mrs Sitharaman served as an assistant to Economist in the Agricultural Engineers Association, UK in London. She subsequently worked as Senior Manager (Research and Analysis) with Price Waterhouse, London. During this time she also briefly worked with BBC World Service.
On her return to India, she served as Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at Hyderabad. Her interest in education led her to lay the foundation of ‘Parnava’, a reputed school in Hyderabad. She was a member of the National Commission for Women from 2003-2005 and instrumental in voicing various issues of women empowerment.
Mrs Nirmala Sitharaman joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2008, and was made a member of the National Executive. She was nominated as party spokesperson in March 2010, from when she has been a full time party worker.
She was inducted in the Union of India’s Cabinet in the Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 26th May 2014 as the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Commerce and Industry.
She is married to Dr Parakala Prabhakar, alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University and London School of Economics and they have one daughter. She is an avid reader and maintains a personal twitter handle @nsitharaman, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org