Nirmala Sitharaman was on Sunday named the new defence minister, only the second woman to hold the post since former prime minister Indira Gandhi says a report in Times of India .
Sitharaman is one of four ministers elevated to cabinet rank on Sunday. She attributed her promotion to “cosmic grace”.
“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.
Sitharaman takes over Arun Jaitley who also holds the heavy-workload finance ministry. He was keen to be rid of defence and said as much. Jaitley is also in charge of Gurjarat elections and incidentally Sitharaman is one of the seven minister who will assist Jaitley in the forthcoming polls.
On Friday, he indicated he may not be defence minister for much longer. “At least, I hope, not very long,” Jaitley had quipped, when being asked about the reshuffle.
Sitharaman – who was minister of state for commerce – is seen to have gained in confidence in handling the ministry and has done well in multilateral negotiations, said party sources. She also made her mark as party spokesperson when the BJP was in the opposition.
When Sitharaman was give the commerce ministry, as an independent charge, it was a role she grew into after an initial period when her direct manner was markedly different from what officials were used to. But of late, she has been seen to have come into her own, gaining control over her turf and dealing with trade negotiations with increasing certainty.
Sitharaman was recently in China for a BRICS meeting where she was engaged in discussions with counterparts even as the protracted India-China border row played out in Doklam.
The new defence minister highlighted her achievements as commerce minister.
“With the support of the prime minister, so many things have happened in the ministry like Start up India, Make in India etc. There is some misconception about ‘Make in India’, but it will be answered,” she said.
Jaitley said Sitharaman will be “an extremely competent successor” to him.