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The Taskmaster

Will an economics background and intricate understanding of commerce and trade help Nirmala Sitharaman steer the economy through its darkest hour?


Call it strange, but Nirmala Sitharaman’s stints across different ministries in the Modi government since 2014 have never been easy.

As the Union minister of commerce and industry she had a tough time negotiating trade concessions at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In her second stint as the defence minister, she had to counter allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal by a belligerent Congress president Rahul Gandhi besides the Doklam stand-off. And on Day One as the country’s finance minister, came the announcement of GDP growth falling to a 20-quarter-low of 5.8% even as joblessness reached a new peak of 6.1%.

But then the 59-year-old is cut from a different cloth. Her calm demeanour belies a fierce determination. She doesn’t let any situation get the better of her, at any cost. In fact, in an interview with India Today in 2012, Sitharaman revealed the best advice she ever got was: “Never go to any extreme… don’t be too suppliant because you will lose your dignity. Nor be too overconfident and aggressive, or you will eventually lose your ground. Remain balanced. That way you can never fall too far.”

An ardent devotee of Lord Krishna, Sitharaman is also of the firm belief that, if not for the cosmic grace, an ordinary girl from a middle-class family in Madurai wouldn’t have come this far.

Though her family had no political connections, Sitharaman did show a streak of her organisational skills and political acumen while pursuing her Masters in Economics from JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University). She was part of a students’ union called the ‘Free Thinkers’. Anand Kumar, National convenor of Swaraj Abhiyan, a breakaway faction of the Aam Aadmi Party, had founded this group.

Recalling his days as her batchmate at JNU, Nalini Ranjan Mohanty, director, Jagran Institute of Management & Mass Communication, wrote in The Quint, that for the students’ union elections in 1982, Sitharaman put in strenuous effort — from writing and pasting posters, to distributing leaflets and canvassing among students. ‘Free Thinkers’ was a union that opposed the ideological moorings


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