Nirmala Sitharaman joined External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as the second female member of the Cabinet Committee on Security. Her elevation is seen as a major step towards women’s empowerment in India.
In the biggest change in the Cabinet reshuffle, Nirmala Sitharaman was appointed India’s first-ever first full-time woman defence minister.
She listed Make in India as a priority on her agenda, as the in-charge of 1.6 million military personnel. Sitharaman, 58, a Rajya Sabha member, is the second woman to take charge of the ministry. Indira Gandhi, as the prime minister, had also held the portfolio in the 1970s.
With Sitharaman’s elevation, she joined External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj as the second female member of the Cabinet Committee on Security. She thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah for the step, which is seen as a major one towards women’s empowerment in India.
For inducting women in combat roles – an issue which has been debated and talked about for a long time, the minister assured that she would “study the issue with an open mind and then take a call”.
The Armed Forces and the Defence ministry are discussing the issue of women in combat. A policy covering all the aspects of their employment and deployment in the forces in battle zones and platforms, is under development.
MAKE IN INDIA AND DEFENCE
On the need to work towards Make in India in the defence sector, Sitharaman said, “This will be one of my focus areas”.
Under Modi’s Make in India in defence programme, India is looking to build strategic systems such as submarines, fighter planes and helicopters within the country itself, develop an indigenous defence industry, and cut reliance on foreign equipment for the armed forces.
Asked how she planned to tackle the issues faced by her ministry, Sitharaman said she would discuss these issues in detail after assuming charge but would take decisions in consultation with all the stakeholders under the guidance of the PM. Sitharaman will take charge as Defence minister on Wednesday after her predecessor Arun Jaitley’s return from Japan.
“I will assume office on Wednesday as incumbent Arun Jaitley is going to Japan in his capacity as Defence minister of the country,” she said.
As the Defence minister, she will face the challenges of modernising the armed forces, which face issues of obsolescence in weapons and equipment.
The minister will soon start getting briefings by the Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force and their roles and responsibilities under her as Defence minister and the security challenges faced by the country from China and Pakistan, along with their modernisation requirements.