Tamil Nadu politics and its women politicians are one of their kind known for their charismatic, enigmatic and flamboyant personalities and their revolutionary political viewpoints. The male dominant political arena saw the rise of a Tamil Iyengar Brahmin lady who would go on to outwit all the niches and clichés of politics, overpower and end the male dominance in TamilNadu. The lady who became a symbol of political power, leadership and a sense of motherly hope ‘Amma’, Kumari Jayalalitha. But Chennai was probably sad after her demise. The political arena was dull after ‘Amma’ left us. A stage was probably getting ready for the celebration of yet another Tamil Iyengar lady taking over the strategically decisive and important defence ministry. Newly appointed Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hails from the Tamil Iyengar Brahmins family from Thiruvangad in Tamil Nadu. She grew up with relatives in Chennai and later Tiruchi, thanks to the transferrable jobs at the Indian railways in which her dad worked.
But all in the while the rebellion inside her was waiting, waiting for an opportunity to unleash. The first exposure and a gateway to politics for Nirmala happened at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The university which has been in the limelight recently for all the wrong reasons has also to be credited for giving us the best of political brains. An MA in economics from JNU and the patronage of like-minded free thinkers at the Godavari hostel was all the fuel that was required to burn the fire of political activism bright in Nirmala’s hearts. Back in the 80’s when SFI was unbeatable, the 1982 JNU elections was a benchmark political game changer. Nirmala campaigned vigorously for Nalini Ranjan Mohanty for the post of the president of the student union which he won. The succeeding year JNU saw the biggest student body protest against the JNU administration and over 1000 students including 300 girls were locked up in Tihar jail for 3 weeks
It is here in JNU cupid struck between Nirmala Sitharaman and her husband, Prabhakar Parakala. He was also interested in politics, but the Congress kind. His father, Seshavataram Parakala, was a well-known Congress politician and an associate of P V Narasimha Rao. Sitharaman and he got married and she registered for a PhD dissertation (on India-Europe textile trade in the GATT framework). But she didn’t complete it because Prabhakar got a scholarship for a PhD at the London School of Economics and she couldn’t appear for the viva.
Her life in London started on a low note. She began her career as a salesgirl at Habitat, a home décor store in London. The competitor and winner in her won her a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne that winter because she made record Christmas sales. That was a short-lived pursuit. She moved on to the research division of PricewaterhouseCoopers. But soon after, a baby was on the way and the duo returned to India in 1991. After returning to India Nirmala Sitharaman served as a deputy director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies in Hyderabad. She also set up a school of alternative education in Hyderabad. For Nirmala, the biggest political break was her association with Sushma Swaraj. He was appointed as a member of the National Commission for women. She joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2006. When the BJP adopted 33 percent reservation structure for women throughout the party, she was invited to join the National Executive Council. She was appointed national spokesperson in 2010 and moved from Hyderabad to Delhi.
However the relationships between Sushma and Nirmala had a bitter turn in 2014 over the Telangana row. In February 2014, Sitharaman tweeted: “If only Sushma had stood for Seemaandhra in Lok Sabha just like Venkaiah & Jaitley did today”. To this, Swaraj responded: “With spokespersons like @nsitharaman, u don’t need enemies”. Both the tweets were deleted but the damage was done. Sushma Swaraj had bitterly opposed Sitharaman’s entry in the Rajya Sabha. Arun Jaitley took her under his wing and in 2014 she became the commerce minister. She was elected from Karnataka as a Rajyasabha MP soon after that.
Nirmala Sitharaman became India’s second woman defence minister after she was elected to the Cabinet in September. Indira Gandhi had served as the defence minister in 1975 and again in 1980–82. However, Sitharaman is the first woman to hold the position full-time. In just about a decade, she has risen from an ordinary member of the party to become the Defence Minister of the country – one of the top four positions in the Union Cabinet. Sitharaman has proven beyond any doubts that she is indeed a braveheart leader when she visited the Nathu La pass and waved at the Chinese soldiers clicking her pictures. She also went ahead to meet them, greet them and also get a “Namaste” from them in return. Having said so much about Sitharaman, we can sit back and relax to know that the country with 1.4 million defence personnel is in able hands to guide and lead in times of distress of the worst a ‘War’.