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Nirmala Sitharaman breaks glass C(CS)eiling, Opposition says go beyond symbolism

Nirmala Sitharaman became the Defence Minister to join External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the CCS, apart from the PM.

Written by Manoj C G , Ravish Tiwari | New Delhi | Updated: September 4, 2017 10:56 am
Nirmala Sitharaman, Cabinet reshuffle, Defence portfolio, Defence Minister, CCS, Security Cabinet, India news, Indian Express On Sunday, Nirmala Sitharaman’s promotion came in for praise from women leaders across party lines — with some words of caution. (Photo: MIB)

Over the last three governments, one helmed by the NDA followed by two under the UPA, women ministers were confined to ministries that symbolised “soft power” — Social Justice, Information & Broadcasting, Women and Child Development, Health, Tourism and Culture, etc. With Sunday’s Cabinet reshuffle, there are now two women on the coveted Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which forms the core of the government and is headed by the Prime Minister.

After Indira Gandhi, as prime minister, held occasional charge of ministries under the CCS, it took another 30 years before Sushma Swaraj took charge as External Affairs Minister in 2014 and became a part of the committee. On Sunday, Nirmala Sitharaman became the Defence Minister to join Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on the CCS, apart from the PM.

The last three governments did not have more than 10 women ministers on the Council at any one time. Prominent among those in that select group were Swaraj, who was in charge of Information and Broadcasting, and Health, and Mamata Banerjee as Railways Minister in NDA-I.

READ | Nirmala Sitharaman, 58, Defence Minister: Procurement to Make in India, all eyes on how she executes reforms

On Sunday, Sitharaman’s promotion came in for praise from women leaders across party lines — with some words of caution.

“I welcome it. I am sure she will do justice to this,” said former minister and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Kumari Selja. “But it should not end at this. We know the way things are in the country, especially in BJP-ruled states. On the ground, there is nothing like ‘beti bachao (save the girl child)’, there is only sloganeering. But I welcome her elevation as Defence Minister,” Selja said.

CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat described Sitharaman’s promotion as a “happy occasion”. “I am glad that we have a woman Defence Minister. I would not say that it is a question of gender empowerment. But certainly, it is a happy occasion,” said Karat, CPI(M) Politburo member and former Rajya Sabha MP.

READ | Expenditure on food security: When Nirmala Sitharaman fought for a peace clause

“It is good that they have women in the CCS. It is certainly a positive message. But if it is not to remain as just tokenism, it is important for the Prime Minister to take the next logical step of passing the reservation Bill for women. That is critical. Why is he hesitant to take that step? There is absolutely no reason for them to not have the Bill,” she said.

Another Congress MP, Sushmita Dev, described the presence of two women on the CCS as “great optics”. “I think it is great optics. There is a message there. She has been appointed as Defence Minister. But there is also Sushma Swaraj, the External Affairs Minister. They should not just become symbols of women empowerment. They should be allowed to function with freedom,” said Dev.

“Swaraj is doing a great job. She is experienced and has huge potential, but they have not allowed her to bloom. Sitharaman should be given an opportunity to actually act as a Defence Minister, to prove to the world that she has a mind of her own,” she said.

READ | BJP calls Opposition ‘regressive’ for criticising Nirmala Sitharaman choice

However, a senior minister told The Indian Express that gender was not the sole criterion that went in favour of Sitharaman. “The first thing was that Arun Jaitley was keen to relinquish the Defence portfolio. With very few alternatives available among senior leaders, Sitharaman fitted the bill. She is serious, uses measured language, has a staunch nationalistic streak and has so far behaved in a way that no accusing finger has been pointed towards her,” the minister said.

Another minister said that the other seniors in the Cabinet — Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad — were crucial to their portfolios and could not have been replaced.

Party sources said that Health Minister J P Nadda could not be considered either, since the party is yet to decide on whether he should be sent to poll-bound Himachal Pradesh.

Besides, sources said, after M Venkaiah Naidu’s exit from the Cabinet, Sitharaman’s entry and induction in the CCS would fit the BJP’s gameplan of deepening its presence in the south. Born in Tamil Nadu, Sitharaman has spent a part of her life in Andhra Pradesh and represents Karnataka in the Rajya Sabha.

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  1. O
    Observer
    Sep 4, 2017 at 4:50 pm
    Unnecessary hype created over this useless lady called Nirmala Seetharaman. She is just plain arrogant. Period. Feku Modi wants to create headlines to satisfy his ego, and hence this stupid move to make her defense minister. Rest assured, she will be utter failure and will be replaced in one year. She had defended Modi when he was stalking a young woman against her will. So much for women empowerment of Feku and Nirmala. This is bizarre tamasha move that will backfire in no time. Just wait.
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    1. Sankaran Krishnan
      Sep 4, 2017 at 4:38 pm
      Yes she deserve this elevation and also proved her worthiness in her earlier portfolio which she had handled diligently and now also she will prove her might in Defence Ministry and focus on Indigenous Defence Production Program and thus Make in India a g success.
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      1. S
        Sphinx
        Sep 4, 2017 at 1:52 pm
        The women reservation bill should not be passed. The deserving should get the opportunities like Nirmala got.
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          A Gopal
          Sep 4, 2017 at 1:35 pm
          So Phoney Intellectual Sickularist Thugs and Hoodlums, a " regressive Hindu patriachal" BJP has appointed a women as the Defence and Foreign Minister and a Dalit as the President and all of them have risen through its ranks and not through any family en lementand the Corrupt Anti-national Congress I terms it as symbolism ??? Truly pathetic !!! How the Khangress has degenerated over just 3 years !!!
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          1. S
            Srini
            Sep 4, 2017 at 12:29 pm
            again a PR hungry PM's showoff, absolutely no need to make a person like Nirmala as Defence Minister. I guess the defence ministry will be handled more by PM himself as he does with External Affairs, Sushma is just a embassy / consulate coordinator for getting visas to st ed people, we haven't seen she travelling to any country,nor does she speak on tough neighbour problems. So ladies dont just get excited.....
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