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Old, male-dominated cabinet leads ‘young India’

The country's cabinet and council of ministers that took oath after the reshuffle on October 28 are marginally younger than the ones they replaced; but they're older than both the West and even Pakistan, and women are rarer than in either, Charu Sudan Kasturi reports.

delhi Updated: Nov 06, 2012 07:10 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

When Ajay Maken took oath on October 28, he became the youngest member of the current Manmohan Singh cabinet at 48.

His induction helped push down the age of Singh's cabinet just a bit but Maken, the youngest member of that team, is still a year older than Barack Obama was when he became President of the US.

Closer home, Pakistan's foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, 34, has no counterpart among Indian women heading any of the top ministries in the cabinet.

Yes, the reshuffle of the cabinet and council of ministers - which also includes ministers of state (MoS) - has made the executive marginally younger than earlier.

But for a nation with 540 million citizens younger than 25, India's executive remains significantly older than those of aging Western countries and even Pakistan, and has fewer women than them, even though women occupy other key posts outside government.

"How will younger MPs ever learn if they don't get any chance at governance?" asked Sudha Pai, political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and acclaimed author of a biography on BSP supremo Mayawati. "And political parties continue to not give opportunities to women - that remains a concern."

The average age of India's cabinet is 65, which in any central or state government officer's job is past retirement.


It is also much older than the current cabinets of the US (57), UK (51), Germany (52), France (53) and Pakistan (58).

And while younger MoSs like Sachin Pilot (35) and Milind Deora (36) have helped the council of ministers become younger at 59, it remains older than the UK (52), France(53) and Pakistan (57).

The US and Germany don't have bodies equivalent to the council of ministers.

Obama's 24-member cabinet has three members - education secretary and Obama's basketball buddy Arne Duncan, housing secretary Shaun Donovan and director of the office of budget and management Jeffrey Zients - under 50.

British Prime Minister David Cameron (46) and his deputy Nick Clegg (45) are among 11 of the 22-member UK cabinet, and Khar among three ministers in Pakistan's 19-member cabinet under 50.

Four ministers in France's 21-member cabinet and three in Germany's 16-member cabinet are under 40. Maken is alone in the 33-member Indian cabinet under 50.

Political scientists cautioned against concluding that younger ministers were automatically better suited to address concerns of the youth.

"But younger people bring fresh ideas," said Rekha Saxena, associate professor in political science at Delhi University. "That's why you need them."

Women don't have a better deal.

Kumari Selja and the newly inducted Chandresh Kumari Katoch are the only women in the cabinet.

In comparison, Germany, headed by Angela Merkel, has 6 women ministers, the US has 8 and the UK has 4 in smaller cabinets. Pakistan has two women - Khar and integration and heritage minister Samina Ghurki - but in a much tighter cabinet than India's.

And France's 21-member cabinet has 10 women.

Unlike Merkel, Khar, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton or British home secretary Theresa May, India's cabinet does not have a woman heading any top ministry.

"Political parties just don't give adequate representation to women in leadership positions," Pai said. "Even in a woman-led party like Mayawati's BSP, I don't see any other woman."