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Nirmala Sitharaman: JNU Bargained For A Tank, Gets A Full Defence Minister

Hard to believe as it may be, the tough BJP leader secured her MA from JNU in 1980, and went on to submit a PhD on 'the India-Europe textile trade within the GATT framework'.

Suhas Munshi | News18.com

Updated:September 4, 2017, 10:09 AM IST
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Nirmala Sitharaman: JNU Bargained For A Tank, Gets A Full Defence Minister
Nirmala Sitharaman's name is said to have figured among the achievers in a spreadsheet assessment of Modi Cabinet ministers. (Photo: News18 Creative)
New Delhi: A few weeks after Jawaharlal Nehru University's vice-chancellor asked for a tank, to instill the spirit of patriotism, in the campus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union Cabinet has awarded it something far bigger. The university's alumna — Nirmala Sitharaman — has been appointed India's first full-time woman Defence Minister.

Hard to believe as it may be, the no-nonsense BJP leader secured her MA from JNU in 1980, and went on to submit a PhD on 'the India-Europe textile trade within the GATT framework'.

Born in Tamil Nadu and married in an Andhra family, Nirmala went on to join PricewaterhouseCoopers research unit in London, working on 'transferring Western audit systems to post-Cold War Eastern Europe'.

But she returned to Hyderabad with her economist husband, who also studied at JNU, in a move, as she said in a press conference some years ago, was a 'conscious decision' to have their children be born in India. Sitharaman during her time at Hyderabad opened public policy institute and a school.

She joined the BJP in 2006 after her tenure with the National Commission for Women ended. In a previous press conference she said, she joined the party not "in its days of glory and therefore being relevant in politics was the only criterion for me".

Sitharaman did not come from the Hindi speaking belt, which meant she wasn't naturally comfortable in speaking Hindi. Despite that she went on to become one of BJP's main spokespersons. She went on to become an MoS in Ministry of Commerce. And now she’s become the first full time Minister of Defence.

Her appointment as the head of Defence Ministry has created another precedent. This is only the first time when two ministers, in charge of separate full-time ministries, are members of the crucial Cabinet Committee on Security.

Nirmala Sitharaman's name is said to have figured among the achievers in a spreadsheet assessment of Modi Cabinet ministers. As the MoS Commerce Ministry, she has negotiated a lot of trade agreements with various countries, provided a lot of support to Prime Minister's favourite – Start-Up scheme.

She also held several rounds of negotiations, to convince a lot of stakeholders, of the benefits of GST – another scheme that was not only close to Prime Minister Modi, but a scheme on which he had staked his political capital. She has been seen to be a quiet but efficient minister.

Sitharaman was appointed to the Commerce Ministry in May 2014 and among her main charges were to promote India's exports. Here is a look at how exports have performed under her watch. Exports dipped lower because of a difficult global economic situation.

Sitharaman is also seen to have served well the party as its spokesperson. She was among the primary spokespersons of the party, under Ravi Shankar Prasad, before being sworn in as the MoS. Also, she recently travelled to China for a BRICS meeting — a tricky assignment in the middle of a lengthy standoff at the border over Doklam.

There is perhaps another reason for the elevation of Sitharaman – Tamil Nadu elections. For some time now BJP is seen to have been promoting Sitharaman as the face of the party in Tamil Nadu. She has off-late made several trips to the state, and has held several rounds of meetings with leaders from Tamil Nadu.

She is said to have been the first leader from BJP to propose legalising Jallikattu through promulgation of a State Ordinance, a route that the state government eventually took.

The party president Amit Shah is said to be quite unhappy with the present handling of Tamil Nadu by those put in charge of the state. Sitharaman's elevation could be a part of an internal reorganisation of the party to that effect.

Born in Madurai and educated in Tiruchy, Sitharaman has been active in the state of Tamil Nadu, though not attached to any particular camp.
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