When Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah sought feedback from members of the BJP core group on the performance of various ministers, all of them complimented the stellar work done by Sitharaman.
Seen as the protege of Finance minister Arun Jaitely, Sitaraman worked to understand the complex ministry of commerce. She was complimented for emphatically putting up India's views at the World Trade Organisation in Nairobi in December 2015, six months after she took charge of the ministry.
India did manage to negotiate hard to ensure that the world body places the interests of developing countries at the centre of its agenda and the need for finding a solution to the issue of public stock holding of food grains.
Though trade experts and food rights activists had criticised that India gained nothing, Sitharaman managed to convince them about the road ahead and how India had succeeded in putting up its case well and getting the support of several like-minded nations.
After taking oath, she said that being given such a huge responsibility and the support of the leadership feels like “cosmic grace”. “I just have no way to convey my gratitude to the Prime Minister and the party that they thought I am good enough for the role entrusted to me. The Prime Minister has always supported women and today he’s sent a strong message for Indian women that they can perform,” she told News18.
For someone who joined the BJP in 2006 and worked as one of the spokespersons of the party, Sitaraman was seen as the most articulate, logical and erudite spokesperson.
In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, she became a familiar TV face of the BJP. But when she took charge of the ministry, she preferred to be rather low key and only stepped in to do the political work when asked to do so. During the Delhi elections Sitharaman would enlist a list of five questions a day to AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal while holding press conferences from the Delhi BJP office.
Senior journalist Neerja Chaudhury says that “what turned out in the favour for Nirmala Sitaraman was the fact that she understands a complex ministry and can decode complex issues such as the WTO.” Sitaraman would now be second woman in the hallowed group of Cabinet Committee on Security besides Sushma Swaraj.
“A choice that clearly projects her as a rising star in the south. Amit Shah is eyeing the southern states as he wants to offset the losses in the North where the BJP peaked in 2014 with gains in the South,” says Chaudhury.
With Venkaiah Naidu, the party's face in the south, moving to the Vice-President's office, Sitaraman is being seen as the one drafting BJP’s long-term strategy in southern states.
Social scientist Manish Priyam says that she was the message of the cabinet reshuffle. “Normative and political calculations were achieved by a woman rising to the defence ministry. It was a compliment to Arun Jaitley and it also achieved cutting of height of bigger leaders like Rajnath Singh”
Her choice has sent multiple messages and has become the big takeaway of the cabinet expansion. The BJP is eyeing women as a constituency in the run-up to 2019 and cannot be blamed for being a male centric party. The BJP wants to break the myth of being a party of the Hindi heartland and may have found its own Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu.