Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister on Sunday as part of a cabinet reshuffle, as he seeks to get economic growth back on track and modernise the armed forces before national elections in 2019.
Sitharaman, 58, who was promoted from being a junior trade minister, becomes the first female defence minister since Indira Gandhi was in charge of the department when she was prime minister 35 years ago.
She will take over from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who held both portfolios but said last week he wanted to concentrate on the economy.
Growth in Asia’s third-largest economy slowed to its weakest pace in three years in the last quarter and government promises to boost manufacturing and create tens of thousands of jobs for one of the world’s youngest workforces have failed to take off.
Sitharaman has been running the trade ministry where she built up a reputation as a tough negotiator.
At defence she will be charged with carrying out a military modernisation programme estimated to cost $150 billion to fully equip India’s armed forces.
Modi also named a new minister for the railways to restore confidence in the world’s fourth-biggest rail network after a string of accidents, as well as a new leader to head a planned clean up of the river Ganges that has failed to make headway.