POLITICS

In Nirmala Sitharaman, India Gets Its Second Woman Defence Minister After Indira Gandhi

Breaking the glass ceiling.

03/09/2017 2:53 PM IST | Updated 03/09/2017 4:20 PM IST
Nguyen Huy Kham / Reuters

Nirmala Sitharaman, the former Minister of State for Commerce, who was elevated to the rank of a full cabinet minister today, is the new Defence Minister of India.

Sitharaman, India's second woman Defence Minister after Indira Gandhi, is a member of the Rajya Sabha.

The 58-year-old minister will take over the defence portfolio from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Following Manohar Parrikar's departure to take over as chief minister of Goa, earlier this year, Jaitley took charge of the Defence Ministry.

Sitharaman's appointment caught many by surprise. While some anticipated Jaitley retaining the post, others thought that it might go to Minister of Road Transport Nitin Gadkari.

Speaking to reporters after her elevation, Sitharaman said, "Somebody who has come from a small town, grown into the party with all the support of the leadership, and if given such responsibility, it just makes you feel sometimes that cosmic grace is there. Otherwise it is impossible."

Sitharaman, a Tamil Iyengar Brahmin from Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, is the daughter of Narayanan Sitaraman, a railway employee, and Savitri. She is married to Parakala Prabhakar, a Telugu Brahmin from Narsapur in coastal Andhra Pradesh.

Sitharaman and Prabhakar, widely regarded as a power couple, met when they were both studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Prabhakar is the son of Seshavataram, a veteran communist, who later joined the Congress Party and served as a five-time minister in AP. Prabhakar is currently the communications advisor to the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu.

Sitharaman and Prabhakar have one daughter.

Before heading to JNU, Sitharaman had graduated with an economics degree from Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College in her hometown of Tiruchirappalli. She then went to Delhi to do her masters in economics. The focus of her draft Ph.D thesis was Indo European Textile Trade.

As a professional, Sitharaman has served as an assistant to Economist in the Agricultural Engineers Association, UK in London. According to the Ministry of Commerce website, Sitharaman subsequently worked as Senior Manager (Research and Analysis) with Price Waterhouse, London. During this time she also briefly worked with BBC World Service.

Sitharaman, who joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2008, has made her mark as an articulate spokesperson of the saffron party. She was inducted in the Narendra Modi cabinet as a junior minister in 2014.

Reflecting on the criticism of her work as the Commerce Minister earlier today, Sitharaman said, "Every criticism is a message and we have to learn from it. I am not averse to criticism and also not frightened of it (criticism), but certainly take messages from them..."

The minister added, "With the support of the Prime Minister, so many things have happened in the ministry like Start up India, Make in India etc. There is some misconception about 'Make in India', but it will be answered."

READ: 9 New Ministers Join The Modi Government

The Modi government on Sunday carried out its third cabinet reshuffle since coming to power in May 2014. Sitharaman was among the four Ministers of State who were made cabinet ministers.

Piyush Goyal, the former Minister of State for Power, has replaced Suresh Prabhu as the Railways Minister.

Nine new ministers from diverse professional and social backgrounds were inducted into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet as Ministers of State.

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