From BJP spokesperson to finance minister, the rise of Nirmala Sitharaman

Nirmala Sitharaman during swearing in ceremony at New Delhi | Photo: PTI
There are many videos of Parliamentary debates on YouTube. One of the most watched, with 2.2 million views, is that of Nirmala Sitharaman defending the Narendra Modi government on the Rafale deal allegations earlier this year in the Winter Session of Parliament.

“In this House, I was called a liar, the Prime Minister was called a thief. The remarks may have been expunged, but I clearly heard it,” said Sitharaman, defence minister in the previous government. “I don’t have a khandaan to boast of. I come from an ordinary background. I come from a middle class family. I come with my honour intact. 

The Prime Minister comes from a very poor economic background. He has come up the hard way, his name is untarnished. You call us chor, and you expect us to keep quiet?” 

Known as a no-nonsense minister, the Rajya Sabha member’s political graph is steep. She started Modi’s first term as MoS for finance and corporate affairs, then became MoS for commerce with independent charge. In September 2017, she was elevated to minister of defence. And on May 31, 2019, she was appointed the Union minister finance and commerce & industry.

That all this came in a little more than a decade since she joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2008 as spokesperson shows how much the senior party leadership, including Modi and Amit Shah, trusts her and values her work.

An alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University and London School of Economics, Sitharaman is the only second woman to hold the defence portfolio after Indira Gandhi. She did attempt to strengthen the process of capital acquisitions of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. She constituted a Defence Planning Committee to formulate an "action plan" to effectively deal with various security challenges facing the nation.

However, she spent most of her tenure defending the Modi government from allegations from the Opposition regarding the purchase of Dassault Rafale fighters from France. Her biggest moment came when India carried out air strikes on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan's Balakot, seen as major policy shift in the country's efforts to deal with cross border terrorism.

She has also focused on boosting domestic defence production besides taking steps to implement the ambitious "strategic partnership" model with several countries like the US and Russia. Under the new model, select Indian private firms will be roped in to build military platforms like submarines and fighter jets in India in partnership with foreign defence majors.

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