India’s council of ministers: From Nehru to Modi
The accompanying charts give a fair idea about the extent of diversity in India’s Union Cabinet from 1952 till now
Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the country, he has drawn comparisons with several world leaders as well as with several past Indian prime ministers including Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Indira Gandhi. How does Modi’s council of ministers compare with those in the past?
Using a unique database sourced from Gilles Verniers, a political scientist at Ashoka University, Mint analysed the composition of the Union council of ministers since the time India became a republic. Given data limitations, it was not possible to examine the historical trends in educational qualifications and wealth levels of ministers. However, as the accompanying charts illustrate, it is possible to get a fair idea about the extent of diversity in India’s council of ministers from 1952 till now. Diversity today is a highly sought-after attribute in boardrooms and in organizations across the world. Diversity is perhaps even more important in democratic politics to ensure that the voice of the majority does not turn into majoritarianism.
When it comes to regional diversity, the current crop of ministers appears to have a mixed record. The number of states represented in Modi’s council of ministers, at 20, is slightly above the historical average of 17 (since 1952). However, the shares of the largest state, Uttar Pradesh, as well as the share of the top three states in terms of ministerial representation, have risen sharply in 2014, as the chart on regional concentration of power shows.
Throughout history, elected representatives from North Indian states, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, have had greater representation in the ministerial council than representatives from southern states. Maharashtra featured in the list of top states in the early years of independence, but its share of representatives in the union council declined subsequently. In recent years, Maharashtra’s fortunes have revived once again.
The data for each prime minister’s term includes those ministers who were inducted in mid-term expansions of the ministerial council. In the pre-1989 era, the average share of Hindus in the ministerial council at 80.6% roughly corresponded to the share of Hindus in the country’s population (80.5%, according to the 2001 Census). Since 1989, the average share of Hindus has climbed sharply to 86% even as the share of minorities in the ministerial council has declined. The rising share of Hindus coincided with the beginning of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, and the emergence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as an important national force in India’s polity.
Historically, both Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) have had low representations in the union ministerial council. Although their shares have risen marginally in recent years, their representation is still below their respective shares in the population. Among major social groups, tribals have had the poorest representation in Indian history.
The number of states represented in the Union council of ministers saw a sharp increase after Indira Gandhi faced a challenge from a syndicate of regional satraps within the Congress in the mid-1960s. P.V. Narasimha Rao’s council of ministers had the greatest regional diversity in the history of the Indian republic.
REGIONAL CONCENTRATION OF POWER
The share of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, in the Union council of ministers had been falling steadily since 1989, but has now scaled a 25-year high, after the Narendra Modi-led government stormed to power on the back of an impressive victory record in the heartland state. The share of the the top three states in the Union council of ministers has followed a similar trajectory.
Maharashtra is the only state to have been consistently among the top three states in terms of ministerial representation since 1999.
The proportion of Hindus in the Union council of ministers has spiked in both instances when the BJP came to power: during the Vajapyee era, and now, during the Modi era. The proportion of upper-middle castes goes up in sync with the proportion of Hindus in the ministerial council. The proportion of Hindus and the proportion of upper-middle caste Hindus have reached their highest levels in the current council of ministers.
The proportion of Muslims as well as non-Muslim minorities in the Union council of ministers has been declining since the late 1980s, when the Ram Janmabhoomi movement began, and the BJP gained in ascedancy. Although there have been heavy swings in the representation of minorities over the past quarter century, the broad trend has been downward since then. The average ratio of Muslims in the Union council of ministers from 1952 to 1989 was 10%, which has fallen 3 percentage points since then. The average ratio of non-Muslim minorities in the post-1989 era has fallen 1.6 percentage points to 6.9%.
One of the reasons for the poverty of Scheduled Tribes (STs) appears to be their lack of political voice. STs have had extremely infrequent representation in the Union council of ministers since India became a republic. In contrast, Scheduled Castes (SCs) have consistently had greater represenation in the Union council of ministers. However, both social groups had lower representation on average than their share in India’s population. According to the 2011 Census, SCs and STs comprise about 16.6% and 8.6% of India’s population, respectively. Their shares in the Union council of ministers have never reached those levels.
THE LONG MARCH FOR WOMEN
Women have had far greater representation in recent ministerial councils than they did in the early years of the republic, although it is still much below the half-way mark.
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