Set to be the first woman to be a full-time Defence Minister in India, Nirmala Sitharaman’s journey in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) started as a spokesperson, and grew in rank soon with her speaking style and debating skills.
On Sunday, Sitharaman became India’s second woman Defence Minister and the first woman to take charge of this key ministry full time. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had held the Defence portfolio twice – from December 1 to December 21 in 1975, and January 14, 1980 to January 15, 1982.
“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 told reporters here after taking oath as a Union Minister.
An economist by education, Sitharaman will take charge of the crucial ministry at a time when tension continues along India’s borders with Pakistan and China, and the government is undertaking major reforms in the ministry and forces, and has ambitious plans to increase defence manufacturing under its flagship ‘Make in India’ policy.
Born in the temple town of Madurai in Tamil Nadu in 1959, Sitharaman has humble roots.
Her father worked in the Railways, and her childhood was spent in different parts of the state due to her father’s transferable job. According to those close to the minister, her mother, a homemaker, had love for books, which instilled a love for reading in Sitharaman as well.
After finishing her graduation in Economics from Seethaiakshmi Ramaswamy College in Tiruchirapalli, Sitharaman did a Masters and M.Phil in Economics from the premier Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi. She then worked in the Agricultural Engineers Association, UK in London, Senior Manager, Research and Analysis with PricewaterhouseCoopers, also in London and briefly with the BBC World Service.
After coming back to India, Sitharaman served as a Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at Hyderabad. She also started a school in Hyderabad, and was a member of the National Commission for Women from 2003-2005.
In 2008, Sitharaman joined Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and was made a member of the National Executive and became a national spokesperson of the party in 2010.
As a spokesperson of the main opposition party at that time, Sitharaman, with her clear command of issues and straight approach, came in the limelight soon.
When the BJP came in power in 2014, Sitharaman was inducted into the ministry, serving as Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs and then held charge of Commerce and Industry Ministry as Minister of State (Independent Charge).
Sitharaman is married to Parakala Prabhakar, an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University and London School of Economics, and the couple has a daughter.