‘Why Nirmala Sitharaman for defence’ was the top-of-themind question in the national capital on Sunday. Several senior BJP leaders and top government officials ET spoke to said the prime minister’s choice was dictated by four main factors.
Defence is a complex job that requires a great degree of application and very careful and precise articulation on sensitive issues. Sitharaman, an ex-Pricewaterhouse executive and JNU alumna, scores on both.
Senior BJP leaders said her stint as both spokesperson and commerce minister, where trade issues require deft handling, showed Sitharaman was a fast learner and chose her words with care.
She will be a great contrast from Manohar Parrikar, former defence minister, who had a tendency to say too much sometimes, a BJP leader said. He also said issues like the Dokalam standoff with China show why someone who speaks carefully on national security is crucial.
Her big promotion was an acknowledgment of these qualities in a relatively junior politician who’s considered by the prime minister as ‘studious and sincere’, a BJP leader said.
“The defence ministry needs a minister who can master complicated reports and understand file work. It also needs someone who’s both cautious when speaking outside and assertive while speaking inside the ministry…Sitharaman fits the bill better than many others,” the same leader said
The BJP leader said Sitharaman’s ability to network with powerful stakeholders, evident in her handling of commerce ministry negotiations, was also a plus.
The second factor is personal integrity. The defence ministry is a hotbed of commercial intrigue and the locus of India’s most notorious scandals, including the AgustaWestland case that the Central Bureau of Investigation is now investigating.
Sitharaman, another BJP leader said, is considered by the PM and party president Amit Shah to have “impeccable personal integrity”. This leader said the PM was determined to keep defence away from any controversy, and Sitharaman was an ideal choice.
Third, the new defence minister’s excellent rapport with the PM was a big reason for her elevation. A senior official said Sitharaman’s many interactions at the PMO showed she’s naturally consultative in her approach and always listened to good suggestions. The PM came to value her ability to adopt others’ good ideas.
The fourth reason is a mix of political considerations. There’s the signal on women’s empowerment, a BJP leader said, pointing out that six of 27 cabinet ministers are now women, and so are two members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (foreign minister Sushma Swaraj being the other).
Also, Sitharaman is from Tamil Nadu with strong political connections in that state and other southern states. The same BJP leader said her acquiring such a big profile will help BJP in the South by the time 2019 polls come around.
Sitharaman is also said to be a minister regarded highly by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which has incidentally always expressed a preference for a woman defence minister.
As carried in timesofindia on 4.9.2017