Expediting strategic partnerships in order to boost indigenous industries will be the biggest challenge for new Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

According to sources, no tender has been floated for building this partnership with companies in countries like Sweden, Japan, Germany, Russia and France, though a decision to this effect has already been taken. These tenders are mainly for single engine fighter planes and submarines. This strategic partnership is in sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” vision. Another challenge, said sources, will be to bring women into combat role. “Though the Indian Air Force has started the process to train woman pilots for fighter planes, there is no woman in combat role in the Army and Navy. It remains to be seen how she ensures the presence of women in combat roles,” a source said.

“Since she is part of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), she will also have to build up troops, especially along the eastern border. She will have to ensure that the mountain strike corps is strengthened to keep China in control,” a source said.

There is considerable excitement over Nirmala Sitharaman’s appointment as Defence Minister. The defence establishment is hopeful that Sitharaman will prove to be an effective minister as she is known for her straightforward approach, hard work and sincerity.

A JNU pass-out, Sitharaman joined the BJP in 2006. It was Nitin Gadkari, who, as party president, appointed her as one of the BJP spokespersons in 2010. She was considered as a no-nonsense spokesperson who would very politely disarm journalists loaded with heavy questions, relevant facts and strong debating skills. She was considered a spokesperson who did her home work properly.

After the NDA government came to power in May 2014, she joined the Modi Cabinet as Minister of state for commerce and industry. She won the by-election to the Rajya Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, and in June 2016, she successfully contested the RS elections from Karnataka. As Commerce Minister, she maintained a low profile, coming on television only to explain a policy pertaining to her ministry or when asked by her party to address the media on specific issues.

Soon after taking charge, she said her focus would be on military preparedness, resolving longstanding defence issues, Make in India and welfare of soldiers and their families. She approved a grant of over Rs 13 crore which will be released for 8,685 ex-servicemen, widows and dependants out of the Armed Forces Flag Day Fund. She also approved financial assistance out of the Raksha Mantri Ex-Servicemen Fund.

“My priority will definitely be the preparedness of the Armed forces. It is important that the Indian armed forces receive the attention in terms of giving them every endowment and equipment necessary for them to perform their duty with the best of equipment available,” she had said soon after taking charge.

About the “Make in India” campaign, she said: “We will ensure that it is given full play for defence production. With technology coming in, we have to ensure that we ‘Make in India’ so that we benefit and also send these to the international market.”

“It will be a priority for me to ensure the smooth and speedy implementation of defence deals and projects.”

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