Nirmala Sitharaman (born 18 August 1959) is an Indian economist and politician serving as the current Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs of India. She is a member of the Rajya Sabha, upper house of the Indian Parliament, since 2014. Sitharaman formerly served as the Defence Minister of India, thereby becoming India’s second female defence minister and also the second female finance minister after Indira Gandhi and first full-time female Finance Minister. She has served as the Minister of State for Finance and Corporate Affairs under the Ministry of Finance and the Minister for Commerce and Industry with independent charge. Prior to that, she served as a national spokesperson for the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Sitharaman featured in the Forbes 2020 list of 100 most powerful women and ranked the 41st in the world.

Early life

Nirmala Sitharaman was born in a Tamil family in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, to Savitri and Narayanan Sitharaman. She had her schooling from Madras and Tiruchirappalli. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics at the Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College, Tiruchirapalli in 1980, Master of Arts degree in economics and M.Phil. from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi in 1984.She then enrolled for a Ph.D. program in Economics with a focus on Indo-Europe trade; but later left this program and moved to London (when her husband secured a scholarship in London School of Economics) because of which she was unable to complete her degree.

Political career

Sitharaman joined the BJP in 2006 and was appointed as a spokesperson for the party in 2010. In 2014, she was inducted into Narendra Modi’s cabinet as a junior minister and in June 2014, she was elected as a Rajya Sabha Member from Andhra Pradesh.

In May 2016, she was one of the 12 candidates nominated by the BJP to contest the Rajya Sabha elections due on 11 June 2016. She successfully contested her seat from Karnataka.

In February 2020, Sitharaman gave a controversial statement during her second Budget speech that Indus script -hieroglyphs have been deciphered and guilds of Saraswati-Sindhu civilisation and the Harappan seals are remarkable, which belong to 3300 BCE.

Union Cabinet Minister

Union Defence Minister

Sitharaman taking charge as the Union Minister of Defence in New Delhi, 7 September 2017

Sitharaman presiding over India’s display of Naval might, January 2018

On 3 September 2017, she was appointed as Minister of Defence, being only the second woman after Indira Gandhi to hold the post, but the first full-time female defence minister.

Union Finance Minister

Sitharaman taking charge as Union Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs in New Delhi, 31 May 2019

On 31 May 2019, Nirmala Sitharaman was appointed as the finance and corporate affairs minister. She is India’s first full-time female finance minister. She presented her maiden budget in the Indian parliament on 5 July 2019. Sitharaman presented the Union Budget 2020–21 on 1 February 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic in India she was made in-charge of the COVID-19 Economic Response Task Force.

Non-political career

Sitharaman meeting Sajid Javid in New Delhi, 8 July 2016

Nirmala Sitharaman worked as a salesperson at Habitat, a home decor store in London’s Regent Street. She has served as an assistant to Economist in the Agricultural Engineers Association in the UK. During her stay in the UK, she has also served as a Senior Manager (R&D) for PWC and briefly at the BBC World Service.[

She has also served as a member of National Commission for Women. In 2017, she was one of the founding directors of Pranava in Hyderabad.

Awards and honors

The Jawaharlal Nehru University conferred her the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2019. Forbes Magazine has ranked her 34th among the 100 most powerful women in the world in 2019.

Personal life

Sitharaman met her husband Parakala Prabhakar who is from Narsapuram, Andhra Pradesh, while studying at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. While Nirmala leaned towards the BJP, her husband was from a Congress family. They married in 1986, and have a daughter. Prabhakar served as a communications advisor to the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.