The rise of Nirmala Sitharaman is among the most remarkable stories of Indian politics in recent times. A Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson before the 2014 elections, Sitharaman was first appointed as a minister of state for commerce and industry (independent charge). But in 2017, in a sign of the faith that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had in her work, she was appointed as India’s first full-time woman defence minister. She shepherded the ministry at a sensitive time and became the government’s key face on national security matters. It was under her leadership in the ministry that India successfully conducted the cross-border surgical strike against Pakistan in Balakot. And it was under her leadership that the government took on the Opposition’s criticism of the Rafale jet acquisition.
In Modi’s second term in office, Sitharaman has been appointed as India’s first full-time woman finance minister, perhaps the most important job in the cabinet. As finance minister, she has introduced a range of important measures from corporate tax cuts to improvements in the Goods and Services Tax, and now is taking up labour reforms. Her role in reviving India’s growth story at a time of economic slowdown, and taking India towards the goal of a five-trillion dollar economy will be crucial.
Articulate, sharp, committed to her party’s world view, Sitharaman brings impeccable integrity to her job. In her rise to being a member of India’s cabinet committee on security lies the story of how merit, hard work, and the will to fight for one’s beliefs can help overcome obstacles.