Lawyers have dominated national politics since at least the days of the struggle for independence. Most of the towering personalities from that era had trained to be lawyers, before they turned their backs on successful careers and the promise of wealth to jump into the freedom movement.
This dominance has continued right till our times. A look at the educational qualifications of the new council of ministers shows that an Indian minister is most likely to have some sort of qualification in law.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Why is that so? One possible explanation is that law is one of the very few professions that one can continue to practise even when one is in the midst of a political career, as is the case with legal luminaries such as P. Chidambaram, Arun Jaitley and Kapil Sibal. So a cerebral individual can be in politics and continue to earn an independent income—at least when in opposition. This is an option that is not open to others such as engineers, economists and doctors (criminals are the other class of “professionals” who can successfully straddle public life and private careers in India).
Another possible explanation is that there is something about democratic legislatures that makes knowledge of the law a source of comparative advantage. The Economist pointed out in an April article that lawyers tend to dominate in democracies. US President Barack Obama went to Harvard Law School, and many in his team are lawyers. A third of German legislators and half the French cabinet are lawyers.
But China is ruled by engineers; eight of the nine members of its elite politburo standing committee are engineers. This, perhaps, reflects that country’s authoritarian regime, where law matters less than in countries such as the US and India.
Yet, the predominance of lawyers can sometimes mean that problem-solving is deemed less important than what The Economist described as “an obsession with process”.
In that context, it is good to see that some of the younger members of the new Manmohan Singh council of ministers are trained in other skills. We have the engineers, such as Jairam Ramesh and Prithviraj Chavan; those with a master of business administration (MBA), such as Sachin Pilot and Jyotiraditya Scindia; and global diplomat Shashi Tharoor, who also has a doctorate from Tufts University.
And many of these ministers are deemed to be close to a person who is not an MBA but who worked as a consultant for a few years with management guru Michael Porter’s Monitor Group: Rahul Gandhi.
Are these the first signs of a culture change in Indian politics?
Lawyer or MBA: who makes a better politician? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org