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Business News/ News / India/  Diversity in India’s ministries: From Nehru to Modi

Amid the furore over the government’s draft national education policy, two newly appointed cabinet ministers Nirmala Sitharaman and S Jaishankar - both South Indians - assumed the role of peacemakers and allayed the fears of South Indians. The incident highlighted both the challenge posed by India’s diversity and the importance of diverse representation in Indian politics.

In India’s newest council of ministers led by Narendra Modi, the predominant identity seems to be male and Hindi-speaking. Almost all (90%) ministers are men and 53% ministers come from one of the Hindi-speaking states. Mint’s analysis of previous councils from 1952, compiled using data sourced from the Trivedi Center for Political Data at Ashoka University, suggests that this is not new.

In Narendra Modi’s Council of Ministers, 23 states and union territories (or 64% of all states and UTs) are represented in the council. Given its size, Uttar Pradesh has always played a major role in Indian politics and this is true for the council of ministers as well. In this council, 9 ministers, including Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani, come from constituencies in Uttar Pradesh making it the state with the most ministers and continuing a trend that goes back to 1952. Apart from the UPA-led councils in 2004 and 2009, Uttar Pradesh has always featured in the top three states represented in councils. In contrast, the south is barely represented with only 7 ministers from the south in the council. In terms of geographic representation, India’s most diverse council was in 1991 when Narasimha Rao-led a council with members from 26 states and Union Territories.

Only 14% of the newly-elected cohort of Lok Sabha members of Parliament (MPs) are women highlighting how women are under-represented in Indian politics. This also extends to the current council of ministers where only 6 out of 58 (10.3%) ministers are women and of which only 3 hold cabinet posts - Nirmala Sitharaman as Finance Minister, Smriti Irani as Minister of Women and Child development and Harsimrat Kaur Badal as minister of food processing industries. Historically, ministerial positions have largely been the domain of men but the current council of ministers fares poorly even compared to recent councils and has the fewest number of women in a council of ministers since 1999. The lack of female ministers, though, is not just an Indian problem. Globally, only one in five ministers are women according to one estimate by UN Women and only a handful of countries have equal representation in ministerial postings.

Indian ministers are not only predominantly men but also predominantly Hindu. In terms of minorities, there are only one Muslim minister and two Sikh ministers. However, in terms of representation from the most marginalized caste groups, the Narendra Modi-led council is one of the most diverse in history. Even though it decreased slightly from 2014, taken together, the share of ministers belonging to either Scheduled Castes (SCs) or Scheduled Tribes (STs) is the second highest since 1952. Data for other caste-breakups such as Other Backward Castes (OBCs) was not available.

Given the technical requirements for ministerial positions, it is unsurprising that most of the council (78% have at least a bachelor’s degree ) is well-educated. But this proportion seems to be decreasing. In 2004, 95% of all ministers were graduates (due to limited data, only ministers voted through the Lok Sabha considered here) but since then this proportion has fallen with every new council. In the current council, there are 21 graduates, 10 postgraduates and four PhD-holders

Compared to the previous council, there may be fewer graduates as ministers but there are now much richer ministers. The median wealth of the Modi-led council is 5.6 crores, significantly higher than the equivalent figure in 2014 ( 2.5 crore), and much higher than the median wealth of the 2019 election winners ( 4 crore). Pratap Chandra Sarangi, the BJP Minister of State for Animal Husbandry ministry and Micro Small and Medium enterprises ministry, now famous for his austerity (declared wealth of 13.4 lakh) is the exception. Ministers such as Harsimrat Kaur Badal (who has a net worth of 1.2 billion) are the norm.

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Updated: 05 Jun 2019, 05:59 PM IST
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