Cabinet Expansion: What Modi’s New Council Of Ministers Says About His Electorate

President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other members of Council of Ministers at the Swearing-in Ceremony, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on July 7, 2021. (Photograph: PIB)

Cabinet Expansion: What Modi’s New Council Of Ministers Says About His Electorate

BloombergQuintOpinion

The much-anticipated and publicised expansion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s council of ministers in his second term concluded on July 7. While it was expected to primarily fill out vacancies to lessen the burden of some ministers, in his characteristic style Modi surprised all pundits by going for a major overhaul.

22% of all ministers were dropped, including some heavyweights. Another 13% promoted after an annual appraisal exercise. 36 new ministers were inducted taking the total strength to 78, a tad below the maximum capacity allowed by the Constitution.

The focus has been on infusing new zeal in the council by accommodating young faces – 12 ministers now are below 50 years of age. There's also better gender representation, with now 11 women ministers in the council.

The expansion provides better representation to backward castes, Dalits, and tribals, that have also emerged as one of the core vote blocs of the Bharatiya Janata Party under the leadership of Narendra Modi. 60% of the council now encompasses those three communities, the highest ever, as claimed by the party.

In terms of regional representation, the new Team Modi has ministers from 25 states and union territories.

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The Union Council of Ministers, with President Ram Nath Kovind, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, on July 7, 2021. (Photograph: PIB)

The BJP hopes that expansion yields electoral dividends in the ensuing state elections and Lok Sabha elections of 2024. For that to be so, does the new council of ministers effectively represent all shades of the spectrum of the support base of the party? Does it do justice to its anchor voting segments who have backed it to the hilt in the past two general elections and many state polls? To analyse this, we need to find out who has been voting for the BJP – measured by community, region, and gender.

Does The Council Of Ministers Reflect NDA’s Caste Math?

In the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, the National Democratic Alliance secured overwhelming support from Hindus cutting across caste groups.

  • 49% Scheduled Tribe voters and 41% Scheduled Caste voters backed the NDA.

  • 58% Other Backward Class voters supported the NDA.

  • 61% of upper caste voters chose the NDA.

Overall, the NDA notched up 45% vote share, within which 38% was the BJP and 7% its allies. In terms of the composition of its vote share:

  • 55% of the total votes it received were accounted for by OBCs;

  • 16% by the upper caste category;

  • 15% by Dalits, and 9% by tribals.

In terms of representation in the council of ministers, as expanded on July 7:

  • 27 ministers belong to the OBC community;

  • 12 come from SC communities, 8 from ST communities;

  • 26 ministers belong to the upper castes.

Also read: Cabinet Reshuffle: Noisy Conflict Versus Silent Execution

79% of the voters of NDA in 2019 belong to the OBC, ST, and SC communities. The ministerial representation at 60%, while higher than previous years, is still 19 percentage points lower than its voter strength. As a result, its core vote base is under-represented in the council of ministers.

While SCs and STs are fairly represented, OBC representation is lower than the vote share the bloc brings. To reflect that fully, the number of OBC ministers should be 43 versus 27 currently. Where is that going instead? The upper-caste share of the council strength is double the share of votes those castes bring.

While the BJP has successfully shed its legacy image of being an upper-caste party and successfully engineered a rainbow coalition of groups, the upper caste category representation in the cabinet is still the same as OBCs despite being a much smaller voter bloc.

Ministers From All Parts Of India?

In terms of geographical spread, the NDA got over 27 crore votes across India. 34% of those came from the north, 25% from the east, 14% from the west (excluding Shiv Sena), 12% from central India, 11% from the south, and 4% from the north-eastern states.

What's the representation in the council? In terms of ministerial berths:

  • North has the maximum with 26 ministers;

  • Followed by West with 16 and East with 15;

  • South has 9 ministers while the Central region got 7; and

  • North-Eastern states have 5 ministers in the union government.

Northern India gets its due in terms of representation. Central India has less than its voting share, while interestingly Southern India has representation that is proportionally similar to the support for NDA in that region. Western India, which includes Gujarat and Maharashtra, has high representation.

Even though the Prime Minister is a twice-elected Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh, he hails from Gujarat and has shown comfort in working with aides from that state. Maharashtra may have a disproportionately higher number of ministers because the BJP may want to send a message to the state’s voters after it was kept out of power at the state level by the Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP combine in November 2019.

East India has a lower representation in the ministerial council than its vote contribution to the NDA.

This is despite the induction of four new faces from West Bengal, primarily because Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) has just one ministerial position against the 16 MPs it has in the Lok Sabha. If his party gets more berths, as being demanded, this skew could correct in the future.

Also read: Tricky Rajya Sabha Polls Await BJP In 2022

Gender Balance?

The government has 11 women ministers, 14% of total cabinet strength. Though it is much lower than the 33% reservation for women which BJP advocates, around 20% of its female MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are ministers.

In terms of regional and community representation of women BJP MPs into the council of ministers, the data falls along similar lines as the overall trends discussed. The highest number of women ministers are from North India. Central and East have lower representation while West has a higher share. South India too has higher representation, including the crucial Ministry of Finance with Nirmala Sitharaman.

As a sidebar, in terms of ministerial clout, unlike the final two years of the first Modi government, Sitharaman is the sole woman minister in the ‘Big Four’ (Home, Finance, Defence, External Affairs) that work out of the Central Secretariat buildings along with the Prime Minister, following the retirement and subsequent demise of former Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Seen by community representation, more than 60% of women voters of the BJP to the OBC and ST groups. OBC women voter representation in the council of ministers is lower than proportional support, whereas that of upper castes is almost double.

There is no woman minister from the SC communities.

Also read: Modi Drops His Health Minister. Can India Get Its Shots Now?

2014 Versus 2021

The first Modi council of ministers that took office in 2014 had 55% upper caste and 45% OBC, SC, ST, and minorities ministers. Since then, the Modi-era BJP has come a long way and now has two-thirds of its ministers from backward classes, Dalits, tribals, and minorities, with upper-caste representation reduced to one-third of the total.

Team Modi version 2.1, through its new council of ministers, rewards its core support base with fair representation. However, more efforts need to be taken to acknowledge the change in the caste composition of its electorate and course-correct some of the regional distortions.

Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator, strategist, and consultant advising political parties and leaders. He was a corporate and investment banker.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.

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