New Delhi: Nirmala Sitaraman will be the new Defence Minister of India - the second woman to be in-charge of the portfolio after Indira Gandhi. By virtue of her elevation she automatically is now part of the all-powerful cabinet committee on security. In the process, the first time MP leapfrogs over senior party colleagues in the cabinet.
The aim to have a full time defence minister assumes importance in the wake of the opposition charge against the government of neglecting the the all-important ministry.
Broadly speaking, the Prime Minister effects cabinet reshuffles to meet two objectives- administrative spruce-up and political messaging. The former is to shed flab and inject fresh blood into the system. The latter, to reach out to social and caste groups for electoral mobilisation.
In the current shuffling of pack, being widely seen as the last rejig before the next general elections, Prime Minister would have had to do a fine balancing act in choosing the newer and dropping the laggards.
Of all the choices the Prime Minister has had to make- in this reshuffle - as also in the past, the biggest challenge for Mr Modi has been to find the right person for the defence ministry.
And for an outfit which claims to be a party with a difference, this is quite important. Its overt and vocal display of nationalism imbues seamlessly with its political rhetoric which sets BJP apart from other national parties. BJP’s political documents and resolution - tend to lay a clear emphasis on national security - both internal and external.
When in opposition, the party is mandated by the people to seek answers from the government. When in power, there is a reversal of role and accountability is sought from the incumbent.
When the BJP won a massive victory in 2014, the defence ministry was first handed over to Arun Jaitley. He held the dual charge along with that of finance. Later Manohar Parrikar was drafted in from Goa. The first chance that he got, the IIT graduate decided to return to Panjim to lead a fragile coalition. The baton was again handed over to Jaitley till a replacement was found.
Prime Ministers in the past have shown great care in choosing their defence ministers. Aspirants are gauged on broadly three parameters- probity, loyalty and political experience.
Manmohan Singh had his share of problems when he was to rejig cabinet committee on security after Shivraj Patil was sent for gubernatorial assignment. Finally family loyalist A K Antony had to be brought in from Kerala to take on the mantle.
In the case of the BJP, the last thing it would want is the perception to grow that it did not take the defence portfolio seriously. It’s a charge that opposition has repeatedly repeated, especially in the wake growing tension with China.
As it prepares to face the electorate again in 2019, the party would want to induce some sort of permanency to this key ministry.