Nirmala as defence minister: Breaking the glass ceiling or cosmetic act towards women empowerment?
New Delhi, Sep 4: The word "women empowerment" is a loaded one, and we have seen how political parties have used it to their advantage for electoral gains. While most parties, irrespective of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Congress, shudder at the thought of giving 33 per cent reservation to women in Parliament, at times we see governments (both at the Centre and in the states) coming up with women-related schemes or entrust plump positions to women.
There is no doubt that these are good and pro-women moves. However, the question that emerges is the real intention of the political parties behind such attempts. Are political parties really serious about women empowerment? Or, like the politics over minorities, politics over women empowerment is something that suits them well?
On Sunday, during the Narendra Modi government's latest cabinet reshuffle, the elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman as the country's Defence Minister was the most talked-about subject.
Several experts read various messages behind the Modi government's latest move to give defence portfolio, generally considered as a male-bastion, as it deals with country's military might and safety from any foreign aggression, to a woman.
One point that everyone cited, including Sitharaman herself, is that it is a big step forward in the realm of women empowerment. Almost all the headlines screamed with the message that the elevation of the 58-year-old former minister of state for finance and corporate affairs and the minister for commerce and industry with independent charge as the defence minister is definitely shattering the glass ceiling (a term that signifies the unacknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities).
Along with the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) alumna's promotion into the cabinet rank, the former spokesperson of the BJP has also been inducted into the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) by virtue of her appointment as the Union defence minister.
Sitharaman as India's defence minister is definitely a matter of pride and happiness for millions of Indian women who are still struggling to assert their rights within their families itself.
Sitharaman by becoming the second female defence minister after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also sends a strong message to the world that Indian women are really strong to head the powerful ministry of defence.
That is why even those who are generally critical of the Modi government cheered the news with great enthusiasm and congratulated the saffron party for working for women empowerment.
However, there are notes of caution amid all celebrations. Many fear that by giving Sitharaman, who does not have much political heft, the all-important post of defence minister, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) will have a direct control over the ministry.
Thus, the PM by giving the post of defence minister to Sitharaman masterfully did two jobs--one projected himself as the champion of women empowerment and second kept his control over the ministry firm.
Moreover, Sitharaman's elevation is meant to compensate for the departure of Venkaiah Naidu, the party's tallest leader from the south, who has become Vice-President.
Speaking to reporters after her elevation, Sitharaman said, "Somebody who has come from a small town, grown into the party with all the support of the leadership, and if given such responsibility, it just makes you feel sometimes that cosmic grace is there. Otherwise it is impossible."
Sitharaman added that her appointment sent a "big message to the world on what the status of women is in India". "This country will never stop promoting women," she told reporters.
Now, Sitharaman has the twin jobs to fulfill--one to continue as the flag-bearer of women empowerment and second to make the country's defence sector one of the strongest in the world.