Nirmala Sitharaman who was promoted to the Cabinet was named the new defence minister of India. She is only the second woman to hold the post since Indira Gandhi, who handled the portfolio when she was Prime Minister more than 30 years ago.
Crediting her elevation to a cabinet rank minister to “cosmic grace” and support from party leadership, Sitharaman said she was “very grateful” for the confidence the Prime Minister has on her.
“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,” she told reporters here after taking oath.
Ms Sitharman said it also sent a “big message to the world of what’s the status of women in India… This country will never stop promoting women”. Referring to the other woman minister she would follow in the crucial Cabinet Committee for Security, Ms Sitharaman said, “Sushma ji paved the way and now I have a responsibility to fulfill’.
Mr. Arun Jaitley, who is leaving tonight for a defence ministers’ meeting in Japan and will hand over charge once he is back, hailed the appointment. “Both ladies in the CCS have established their competence… both are recognised as ladies with substance, who have earned a front-line position for themselves,” said the minister, who is also a member of the CCS along with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Ms Sitharaman said she felt a “bit nervous, filling in the shoes of Mr Jaitley.”
So far, 18 of 51 European nations have had women defence ministers, starting with the appointment of Elisabeth Rehn in Finland in 1990. Norway had five women defence ministers, Sweden three. Closer home, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto had handled the defence portfolio when she was the premier. So did Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is also the nation’s defence minister.