11 women out of 77 ministers in the new Modi cabinet: Here’s why we need to talk about it

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With the reshuffle on this Wednesday, the Modi government has nearly doubled the number of women ministers since the first term

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet was rejigged, emphasis was laid on the representation of women. Compared to the outgoing Cabinet and Council of Ministers which comprised five women, the renewed Cabinet and Council of Ministers have a total of 11 women ministers. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman continues to hold additional charge of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. Smriti Irani has now been relieved of the Ministry of Textile and will continue to remain Minister of Women and Child Development (WCD). Women in the Modi Cabinet apart from Sitharaman and Irani, include BJP leaders Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti and Renuka Singh Saruta remained untouched by the reshuffle. Jyoti is MoS in the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, as well as the Ministry of Rural Development. Saruta, meanwhile, is MOS in the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

 

Who all made it to the Cabinet?

Anupriya Patel- Two-time Lok Sabha MP from Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, Anupriya Patel has been appointed MoS in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Anupriya Patel is the leader of Apna Dal, the BJP’s NDA ally in Uttar Pradesh. She has also served as an MoS in the Ministry of Health during PM Modi’s first term in office.

Shobha Karandlaje- BJP MP from Karnataka’s Udupi-Chikmagalur, Shobha Karandlaje, is also a two-time Member of Parliament. Apart from serving as a one-time MLA and one-time MLC, she was also a part of the Karnataka government, holding portfolios such as Power, Rural Development and Food and Civil Supplies. Karandlaje has been given charge as MoS in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare.

Darshana Jardosh- Three-time MP from Surat in Gujarat, Darshana Jardosh has been appointed as MoS in the Ministry of Textiles and Ministry of Railways. Prior to her election to the Lok Sabha, Jardosh was a Corporator of the Surat Municipal Corporation and also a member of the Gujarat Social Welfare Board.

Meenakashi Lekhi- Serving her second term as Lok Sabha MP from Delhi, BJP leader Meenakashi Lekhi is a Supreme Court lawyer. She has also been a member of the New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC), one of Delhi’s three civic bodies. Lekhi has been given charge as MoS in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Culture.

Annpurna Devi- A four-time MLA, Annpurna Devi is currently Lok Sabha MP from Kodarma in Jharkhand. She has held portfolios such as irrigation and Women and Child Welfare as a minister in the Jharkhand government. Annpurna Devi has been appointed as MoS in the Ministry of Education.

Pratima Bhoumik- First-time BJP MP from Tripura West, Pratima Bhoumik, has been given charge of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as a Minister of State (MoS).

Dr Bharati Pawar- She is a first-time Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra’s Dindori. She has also served as a member of the Nashik Zila Parishad. Pawar has been appointed as MoS in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

 

How did the Cabinet look like before?

In 2019, the women in Modi’s Cabinet were only three. Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman and Harsimrat Kaur Badal were the only three female cabinet ministers in Modi government’s second stint.

Previous NDA cabinet had Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister, Smriti Irani as textile minister, Sushma Swaraj as foreign minister, Uma Bharati as drinking water and sanitation minister, Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur as food processing industries minister and Maneka Gandhi as women and child development minister. Najma Heptulla, served as minister of minority affairs but later she was dropped in after a reshuffle.

While, Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman and Harsimrat Kaur Badal have been retained in the cabinet, Sushma Swaraj had been chosen to sit out on account of her health. Najma Heptulla had been then appointed as Governor of Manipur.

With the reshuffle on this Wednesday, the Modi government has nearly doubled the number of women ministers since the first term. The strength has moved from six in the previous term to 11 – the highest number of women ministers in the Union government since 2004.

Both terms of the Manmohan Singh-led governments had 10 women ministers each.
With women voters being seen as an emerging constituency, the move to induct from women ministers appears to be a course correction by the ruling party ahead of the 2024 general elections. After the ministry reshuffle was announced, Women and Child Development Minister Smriti Irani said on Twitter: “Youngest in the history of India having significant representation of women ministers…” The Council of Ministers reflects the Prime Minister’s “commitment towards women-led development & fulfilling aspirations of a New AatmaNirbhar Bharat”, she said.

However, we don’t know if this is a matter of praise or concern — out of 77, only 11 and that isn’t really a very good number, as is being portrayed by the BJP or their allies. Women comprise half of our voters, 50 percent, but women are just 10% of the candidates in any state going to the polls, and that is considered a generous figure. Always the vote bank but never really in the frontline. Our record of women’s representation has not been talked about much and there are intense reasons for that. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2021, where India has slipped 28 places, ranking 140 among 156 countries, shows the current and realistic scenario of what’s going on. India is the third-worst performer in South Asia, only ahead of Pakistan and Afghanistan — behind Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan. Well, in order to make it a level playing field, we have to do a lot of more in providing them representation in politics.

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