Elevation of Ms. Nirmala Sitharaman as the new Defense Minister is an assertion of many opinions on part of the ruling dispensation. Some may look at it as a weapon of Women Empowerment too. Personally, on the grounds of being a woman, I am happy to see a woman leader take the charge. But, on the grounds of being a concerned citizen, one cannot really ignore the fact that there are a number of challenges ahead for the new Defense Ministry.

The challenges before Sitharaman are vast, complex and range across a wide spectrum of issues, which time will decide if they’ll be resolved or not. Let us look at some of the issues that she might have to face.
Unprepared for Defense
Assuming we are aware of the patriarchal hub of Institute that Army is, Sitharaman’s inexperience in Army may prove as a challenge to her in house ministry. It can be a hindrance knowing she has limited knowledge about the functioning of the military. The three service chiefs and the defense secretary would spend time, slowly taking her through the drill, enabling her to comprehend the complexities of military power and its application in the regional and global context. All this is going to be a slow process knowing she’s unprepared for Defense.
A short tenure
She will have a short 20-month period to take on her roles and execute them before the next elections – and this could be rendered even less if the general election is called earlier than scheduled. There is “critical hollowness” in defense preparedness that Sitharaman will have to immediately address. Knowing, the first five months will be needed to understand the mechanism of how Defense works; the remaining period is a short time to render our deals in Defense. One of them can be
Defense Procurement – Defense Minister will have to assert that India’s armed forces are fully prepared to meet any challenge while cautioning the opposition parties against giving the impression that they are unprepared due to lack of procurement.
The other challenge here will be our Relationship with our neighboring countries. Challenges to national security come in different forms and the recent Doklam face-off is only the most visible. From the abiding pattern of state-sponsored terrorism to low-intensity conflict (LIC) and the anxiety generated by weapons of mass destruction to deter conventional military threats and national sovereignty and integrity – the Indian defense minister is responsible for all this and more. Our relationship with our neighbors needs new turns and amendments and the Defense minister would have to carry them out.
A PMO Oriented Government
The last Congress government under Mr. Manmohan Singh was a cabinet driven government. Today’s Modi government is mostly a PMO driven Government. So, It is going to be a challenge to maintain her identity, knowing her role can be concise and the decisions will also be taken by the PMO office.
The Positives

  • Under Ms. Sitharaman’s tenure, the role of women in the combat posts may get a boost. As what Mr. A.Y.Tipnis, the former Air Force chief of the nation said, ‘She is an excellent choice for the Defense Minister’s post. She will see that the requirements of the forces are met and she has that caliber. The importance of this portfolio is huge and it is a well-timed decision and bodes well for the armed forces.’
  • Sitharaman is said to be someone who cannot be bullied. She takes decisions with a crisp. Being the party spokesperson for a long time she is well versed with the non-negotiable decisions she might have to take.
  • Hence, the hope here is to get a good powerful identity in the Defense ministry and execute her plans wisely.
Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned that she felt overwhelmed by the trust placed in her by the prime minister and her party. All that she now faces is the challenge of winning the trust of the armed forces.
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About the Author

Akshay Palande

Akshay Palande is a passionate teacher helping hundreds of students in their UPSC preparation. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering and double masters in Public Administration and Economics, he has experience of teaching UPSC aspirants for 5 years. His subject of expertise are Geography, Polity, Economics and Environment and Ecology.

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