18 August 1959, Savitri and Narayanam Sitharaman, a Tamil Iyenger family in Tamil Nadu, welcomed a girl child and named her Nirmala Sitharaman. Little did they know, their little girl would go on to become India’s first full-time female defence and finance minister, a feat even women in modern India dream to achieve.
An inspiration for many young girls, Nirmala Sitharaman, is a name that needs no introduction. An Indian economist and a prominent leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Nirmala Sitharaman has held key positions in the Government of India since 2019, serving as the Minister of Finance and Minister of Corporate Affairs. She has been listed four times on Forbes’ list of World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.
Nirmala Sitharaman was born in a traditional family who originally lived near the Cauvery River but later moved to Madurai. In her family, getting a good education was important, and they believed that learning was the most valuable thing.
Since her dad worked for the Indian Railways and had to move around, she spent her childhood living with family members in Chennai and later in Tiruchi. She went to Sacred Heart Convent Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School in Villupuram for her primary education.
She continued her schooling in Madras and Tiruchirappalli, where she finished her college studies. In 1980, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College in Tiruchirapalli. Later, in 1984, she completed a Master of Arts degree in economics and an M.Phil. from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.
She had plans to pursue a PhD in Economics with a focus on Indo-European trade. However, she had to leave the program when her husband received a scholarship to study at the London School of Economics in London. As a result, she could not finish her Ph.D. degree.
She got involved in politics and protests while studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). She was doing a master’s degree in economics and lived in Godavari hostel with some friends who believed in free thinking.
In 1982, she passionately supported Nalini Ranjan Mohanty in the students’ union election, which was a big deal at JNU. Mohanty won the election, beating the Students Federation of India, which was considered very strong and unbeatable at that time.
In 2019, Jawaharlal Nehru University recognized Nirmala Sitharaman’s achievements and contributions by awarding her the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Nirmala Sitharaman met her husband, Parakala Prabhakar when they were both studying at Jawaharlal Nehru University. It’s interesting to note that while Nirmala was inclined towards the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), her husband came from a family associated with the Congress party.
They got married in 1986 and have a daughter together. Prabhakar later worked as a communications advisor to the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
Nirmala Sitharaman had various jobs while living in London. She worked as a salesperson at a home decor store called Habitat on Regent Street. She also worked as an assistant to an economist at the Agricultural Engineers Association in the UK.
During her time in the UK, she held a senior managerial position in research and development (R&D) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) and briefly worked at the BBC World Service.
Additionally, she served as a member of the National Commission for Women. In 2017, she became one of the founding directors of Pranava, a company based in Hyderabad.
Nirmala Sitharaman is a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, representing Karnataka since 2016 and previously representing Andhra Pradesh from 2014 to 2016.
Nirmala Sitharaman was a national spokesperson for the BJP until 2014. In that year, she became a part of Narendra Modi’s cabinet as a junior minister and also won a seat in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the Indian Parliament) from Andhra Pradesh in June.
She was the Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs from May to November 2014. Later, she became the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry from May 2014 to September 2017 before rising to senior positions within the Union Cabinet.
In May 2016, she was nominated as one of the BJP’s candidates to compete in the Rajya Sabha elections, which were scheduled for 11 June. She successfully won her seat, this time representing Karnataka.
Before her current role, Sitharaman served as the 28th Defence Minister of India from 2017 to 2019, making her the second woman to hold this position in India’s history.
She also became the second woman to serve as the Finance Minister, following in the footsteps of Indira Gandhi. During her tenure, she oversaw the Balakot Air Strike conducted by the Indian Air Force in 2019. Notably, she was the first full-time female minister to manage both the Defence and Finance portfolios.
Currently, she holds the position of Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs in India and has presented five annual budgets for the country as of 2023. Under her leadership, India’sIndia’s economy has grown to reach a value of $3.75 trillion.
Nirmala Sitharaman stands as a symbol of empowerment, demonstrating that dedication and determination can break down barriers and pave the way for women to excel in positions of power and influence.