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India gets first full-time women Defence Minister

One wonderful leader and non-controversial minister of BJP government, with a promotion in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Nirmala Sitharaman has taken charge of the key defence ministry from Arun Jaitley. Sitharaman is the first independent woman Defence Minister of India. However, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the first woman to hold the portfolio as the additional charge till 1982.

Fifty eight years old, Sitharaman, has served as a Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs under the Ministry of Finance headed by Arun Jaitley and the Minister of Commerce and Industry with independent charge. She is a Rajya Sabha member and represents Karnataka in the Parliament.

Formerly, a member of the National Commission for Women, Sitharaman has an MA degree in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She also has a PhD in the Indo-European textile trade within the GATT framework and MPhil. She had joined the BJP in 2006 even though her husband Dr Parakala Prabhakar had joined the Prajarajyam party floated by film star Chiranjeevi in 2007. It was during Nitin Gadkari’s tenure as BJP President that Nirmala Sitharaman was enlisted as one of the six party spokespersons in March 2010.

In May 2016, she was sworn in as Minister of State (Independent Charge), later in 2017 the post of the Defence Minister fell vacant after Manohar Parrikar joined Goa state politics to become the Chief Minister of the state. Following this, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley took over, rather he proved to be most pitiable minister. The sudden departure of Parrikar to Goa has surprised many. In his 27-month stint at the MoD, Parrikar set the reforms ball rolling on many fronts. While Arun Jaitley, holding additional charge of the Defence Ministry, can be expected to proceed along the course set by his predecessor, it was difficult and hard for him to address the needs of a Ministry as crucial as defence while holding the other equally important portfolio of finance.

To get an idea of the magnitude of the tasks at hand, defence deals worth Rs 50,000 crore are stuck for the need of documentation on strategic partnerships. This entails spelling out the specialisations of Indian corporate players so that foreign partners can forge tie-ups without running from pillar to post for the requisite information. Negotiations on the $12-billion single-engine jet fighter deal could lose momentum. Major procurement initiatives were called for, in view of the squadrons being phased out. The Indian Air Force has 34 squadrons out of the 42 authorised. Each squadron consists of 18 aircrafts. Apart from this, 11 squadrons of MiG-21s were required to be phased out as these have already completed more than 20 years of service and have become obsolete. These are in common parlance known as flying coffins due to large accidents and pilots bailing out/casualties.

However, at the heart of the new agenda is the Make in India dispensation for defence, bolstered by significant foreign investment and know-how — a shift away from large-scale imports. In this regard, the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) policy, released in March 2016, must be taken to its rightful conclusion. Parrikar had set an ambitious target of $2 billion defence exports by 2019, against a mere $330 million at present. He also worked out a formula, although not to the satisfaction of all concerned, to the vexed one-rank-one-pension (OROP) issue, which had been hanging fire for a decade. Indian economy, demonetisation and GST proved to be big flop. One finance minister who has handful of commitments could not do justice with additional portfolio; in such crises India needed a full-time Defence Minister. India has been facing terrorism supported by Pakistan for many decades. In the early 1980s, Pakistan supported a Sikh insurgency in Punjab state. Since 1989 onwards, Pakistan has been accused by India of aiding an insurgency in Kashmir. In recent years, the challenge has been containing terrorism abetted by Pakistan as well as respond to Pakistan’s violations of a 2003 ceasefire agreement along the India-Pakistan borders.

Another threat has been India’s strategic rival China’s emergence and its regional and global ambitions. With a long unsettled border, incursions have been common. But a measure of the complexity of the relationship came to the fore during the 73-day military faceoff in Doklam in Bhutan that ended on August 28. It began on June 16 after Indian troops intervened to stop Chinese troops from constructing a road on the Doklam plateau after Bhutanese objections to the incident were ignored by the Chinese. It was the longest confrontation between the Asian giants in two decades.

It is for the first time in more than 30 years that the crucial ministry has been given to a woman minister. Before this, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held the portfolio till 1982. In fact, Sitharaman is India’s first full-time defence minister as Indira Gandhi held the portfolio twice, while she was the Prime Minister.

A Ministry of Defence serves an integral part in a country’s military purposes. This role has traditionally been given to males as it’s related to military chain. But, in recent years many women across the globe have been given with this role and actually the first woman ever entitled to this job was the then-Prime Minister of Ceylon, Sirimavo Bandaranaike back in 1960s. This list shows group of women that are/were entitled with the title of Minister of Defence who is/was in charge in regulating the armed forces in their respective countries.

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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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