Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman: Her Journey to Budget Day

In less than two weeks, the new finance minister will present the Union Budget for fiscal year 2019-20.

3 min read
Hindi Female

As she took centrestage in the Parliament to present the Union Budget 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman, became India’s first full-time woman finance minister to do so. The last time this position was held by a woman was by Indira Gandhi in 1971, as an additional charge while being the Prime Minister.

After major economic decisions like the GST, FDI and demonetisation under her predecessor Arun Jaitley’s watch, there’s a lot of speculation as to how Sitharaman might fare as the Finance Minister.

Here’s a look at Sitharaman’s journey from being a BJP spokesperson to holding India’s defence and finance portfolios successively.


From Tiruchirapalli to New Delhi via London

Sitharaman was born on 18 August, 1959 in the temple town of Madurai, Tamil Nadu. She graduated in Economics from Seethalakshmi Ramaswamy College in Tiruchirapalli. She went on to do her Masters in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

After she moved to London with her husband, Parakala Prabhakar, in the 1980s, she worked as Senior Manager (Research and Analysis) with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). She also worked briefly with BBC World Service.

On her return to India, she served as Deputy Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies at Hyderabad.

March to the Ministry

Before joining the BJP in 2008, Sitharaman served as a member of the National Commission for Women between 2003-2005. She was made a member of the National Executive of the party in 2008. She was nominated as party spokesperson in March 2010 and has been a full-time party worker since then.

After the Modi government was elected to power in 2014, she was inducted in the Union Cabinet as the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Commerce and Industry.

On 3 September 2017, she was appointed as Minister of Defence, becoming the second woman after Indira Gandhi to hold the post.


Nirmala, the Raksha Mantri

As a Defence Minister, she always stressed on strengthening armed forces and was credited for expediting the decision-making process relating to defence procurement. She constituted a Defence Planning Committee to formulate an “action plan” to effectively deal with various security challenges the nation faces.

However, her tenure was marred with controversies. To begin with, she was mostly perceived by many as a stop-gap arrangement till the Lok Sabha elections, with most decisions being taken directly by the Prime Minister’s office.

While many applauded her appointment as India’s second female Defence Minister, many others also questioned her qualifications for the post at a time when the country was having a hard time dealing not just with Pakistan, but also with China.

Her tenure saw multiple attacks by the Opposition, especially by the Congress over the government’s Rafale deal, which was signed during her predecessor Manohar Parrikar’s time.

While she appeared staunch in refuting allegations of corruption in the deal, questions posed by the Opposition regarding the Rafale controversy, especially regarding Anil Ambani, persisted.

Her credibility was questioned further by many after the terror attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in February 2019, just weeks before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

When India carried out air strikes on a terrorist training camp in Pakistan’s Balakot soon after, it was seen as a major policy shift in the country’s efforts to deal with cross border terrorism. However, the credit was majorly given to Prime Minister Modi’s ‘decision making’.

According to senior journalist Arati Jerath, PM Modi believes that Sitharaman can deliver on his plans for the revival of the economy. “This is his (PM Modi’s) biggest challenge ahead, and the success of his foreign policy vision depends on creating a huge growth surge to catapult India as the world’s third largest economy by 2030,” opined Jerath while writing for The Quint.

Can Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman deliver? On this Budget Day, all eyes are on her.

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