Nirmala Sitharaman getting defence ministry means PMO writ likely to remain large in her ministry
As defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman instantaneously becomes part of what is called league of Big Four in the government and a member of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security.
It can't get bigger than this for Nirmala Sitharaman. Soon after she was elevated to the Cabinet rank from the Minister of State rank, Prime Minister Narendra Modi catapulted her to become the defence minister, in-charge of external security and tough internal situations the country.
As defence minister, she instantaneously becomes part of what is called league of Big Four in the government and a member of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security. Her journey in politics and in corridors of power (with exception of Manmohan Singh) would perhaps be unparalleled in contemporary political history. Her political life, as also life and career in the BJP is only 11 years old. A postgraduate in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University who worked for years with multinationals, Sitharaman joined BJP in 2006 but immediately left her mark as an articulate and aggressive spokesperson. When Modi handpicked her to become a minister in May 2004 she was not even an MP.
The South Block chamber on the Raisina Hills that she is going to occupy has seen some of the most illustrious and powerful leaders of the day. Take a look at her predecessors Arun Jaitley, Pranab Mukherjee, George Fernandes, Jaswant Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, PV Narasimha Rao, Sharad Pawar, VP Singh, SB Chavan, Rajiv Gandhi, R Venkatraman, Indira Gandhi, Jagjivan Ram, VK Krishna Menon and Kailashnath Katju among others. Sitharaman is going to wear the same hat.
Her surprise nomination to the post of defence minister means two things -- that she has acquired the supreme confidence of the prime minister and her integrity factor which was considered the most critical thing for occupying this post in the Modi regime is beyond doubt in eyes of her two political bosses. At another level, her big bang promotion means that the writ of the Prime Minister’s Office would run large in the defence ministry.
While the debate of Sitharaman's new portfolio makes headlines a senior bureaucrat who studied at JNU remarked in a lighter vein, "Now that we have defence minister from JNU, no one would call this university as anti-national."
With Sushma Swaraj as external affairs ministers, two women occupy two top ministerial positions.
Another big newsmaker in today’s reshuffle is Piyush Goyal. Like Sitharaman he too was elevated from Minister of State position to the Cabinet rank and was given Railways, a ministry which connects with almost every Indian. Railways is close to Modi’s heart. Goyal's predecessor Suresh Prabhu will now look after the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
While Uma Bharti survived the axe but had to give up water resources and Ganga rejuvenation. Nitin Gadkari will take care of Namami Gange project besides handling surface transport and shipping ministries. Bharti has been moved to drinking water and sanitation ministry.
Big gainers in the expansion cum reshuffle have been former bureaucrats — Raj Kumar Singh gets into Piyush Goyal's shoes in power ministry and Hardeep Singh Puri has been entrusted with the task of ensuring that smart cities are developed as scheduled. Puri must ensure that Housing for All dream is duly attended to and metro rail network spreads all across the country. Alphons Kannanthanam will be in-charge of developing tourism in the country while Mahesh Sharma has been divested of this portfolio. Former IPS officer Satya Pal Singh will assist Gadkari in the water resources ministry.
Smriti Irani continues to be a high profile minister. Modi has let her continue with the information and broadcasting ministry, as also with textiles. That way Harsh Vardhan has a reason to smile. He too retains forest and environment besides science and technology.
The Modi government has only 18 months left in the office to deliver before it goes to 2019 parliamentary polls. His stress is on performance and last mile delivery.
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