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Where Was Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman?

The Raksha Mantri's virtual absence on a day when India entered a military escalation with Pakistan raises serious questions.

On Wednesday morning, following the escalation with Pakistan,  India lost a MiG-21 Bison and IAF pilot, now identified as Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by Pakistan. Following the military escalation, with war clouds looming over their heads, a common question being asked is, “Where is the Defence Minister?”

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah asked if we still had a Defence Minister.

Twitter was abuzz.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman a.k.a Raksha Mantri did not issue any public statements on the matter, or attend the  meetings with security officials and chiefs of Indian Army, Indian Air Force and Indian Navy. Two such meetings were held in one day and were attended by the Prime Minister and the National Security Advisor, but no Defence Minister.

She did attend a Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) meeting to approve some defence purchases.

On her Twitter account too, she did not post a word about the escalation with Pakistan or the IAF pilot’s capture or safe return. She only retweeted two tweets pertaining to the National Youth Parliament and the launch of the Khelo India app.

After the 21 Opposition parties issued a joint statement expressing concern over the IAF pilot’s safety and slamming the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders for “blatant politicisation of the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces”, one expected Sitharaman to make an appearance defending her government, like she has in the Rafale scam matter. The Raksha Mantri has been on the frontlines — in the Lok Sabha, before the press — of defending the NDA government over corruption allegations in the deal. But this time, it was Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar who held a press conference to respond to the Opposition’s statement.

A detailed report, by Shishir Gupta in Hindustan Times, about the Balakot airstrikes conducted by India, says that only seven people — The Prime Minister, the NSA, three service chiefs and two intelligence officials —  knew of the air strikes before they occurred. The list, clearly, does not include the defence minister.

“The fighters took off at 1.30am on February 26 (the Mirages from Gwalior and the Sukhois from other bases). They landed at 4.00am. Soon after, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman was informed about the operation. The Cabinet Committee on Security was briefed shortly after,” the report adds.

Finally, on Thursday morning, ANI reported that she would be meeting the three service chiefs ‘shortly’.

Also Read: Indians Pray For Safe Return of Wing Comm Abhinandan But Modiji Desperate Only for Re-election: Randeep Surjewala

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