A week of India's new Defense Minister
Nirmala Sitharaman is the first Defense Minister in 16 years to visit the sensitive Uttarlai airbase in Barmer, Rajasthan after George Fernandes in 2001. Sitharaman called the Barmer airbase, only underground one, as being important from a "strategic" viewpoint. Visiting this airbase is not the only important decision that Sitharaman has taken this week. Read on to know how her week has been.
Before Sitharaman took office, on September 5, she was briefed by senior military and defense ministry officials at her residence. On September 7, Sitharaman took charge as DM, after Arun Jaitley (then DM) returned from his visit to Japan. She asserted that "I will be the Defense Minister round-the-clock." She may fulfill her promises as is noticed through her actions enumerated below.
Sitharaman declared modernization, military preparedness, developing weapons under 'Make in India', and welfare of soldiers as her areas of priority. This is in the backdrop of India facing threats from China and Pakistan and military struggling with the need for submarines, helicopters, tanks, artillery guns etc.
Sitharaman has demonstrated her own style. To expedite decision making, Sitharaman will hold daily meetings with the three service chiefs and a separate meeting with the defense secretary. These meetings will address border security situations, defense-related infrastructure projects and personnel welfare. She will hold a Defense Acquisition Council meet, highest defense procurement body, every 15 days to address shortage of arms and ammunition.
After taking charge, Sitharaman first visited Goa's naval station INSV Hansa; later, she flagged off INS Tarini, Indian Navy's all women crew circumnavigating the globe. Then, she went to Uttarlai airbase, Gujarat's Sir Creek and Naliya Air Base and Gwalior's Mirage fighter base. These visits to military bases may make her popular with armed forces and will provide her an understanding about on-ground situation.
After assuming charge, Sitharaman approved a grant of Rs. 13 crore from the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund to benefit ex-servicemen and widows and approved financial assistance from the Raksha Mantri Ex-Servicemen Fund. Finalizing induction of women for combat roles was a pertinent decision.
Sitharaman will have to deliver fast as NDA's reign comes to an end in 2019. As the PM aims to make India a hub for hi-tech weapons, Sitharaman will have to ensure that defense procurement and strategic partnerships, which are normally long-drawn out processes, are sped up. It remains to be seen whether Sitharaman maintains the momentum she has begun with.