The headline is screaming aloud, Nirmala Sitharaman is India’s first full-time Defence Minister. In a surprise move, Prime Minister Narendra Modi named this soft spoken JNU alumnus as the next Defence Minister. She replaced Arun Jaitley, who will continue with the Finance Portfolio.
Though there are some political experts who believe that a formal defence general would have better suited the post, it is nevertheless interesting to track Sitharaman’s political career. She has an MA degree in Economics followed by MPhil and has played a crucial role in the 2014 Modi Campaign. Along with Sushma Swaraj, they are the only women who are also part of the Cabinet Committee on Security. Earlier Indira Gandhi too had held the Defence Minister’s post but that was an additional charge.
The reference to Indira Gandhi also brings to light another interesting aspect of Sitharaman’s career. She is a BJP member but part of a pre-dominantly pro-Congress family. Incidentally, this free thinking politician is also an alumnus of JNU. She played a very important role in 2014 elections and went on to earn a place in Modi’s Cabinet and a Ministerial berth as well.
But the point that many are raising now is she well suited for the ministry. Experts feel that specialisation is the name of the game currently. The fact that both US and China have former defence heads serving as Defence Minister is surely not a coincidence. But then again if you see Sitharaman’s career graph, her stint has a Commerce Minister was not completely successful either, though she has specialisation in that area. The industry had to deal with a double blow of past inefficiencies and current economic challenges. Moreover, it was also linked with the Finance Ministry’s decision chain.
However, the reason why I am citing this example is just area expertise might not always be the only pre-condition to excellence in service. The question is we need to wait and watch how she can use her keen global perspective to strengthen our defence services and strategic positioning globally.