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at the helm

Five significant ways in which India’s new cabinet is different

Narendra Modi took the oath of office as India’s 15th prime minister in a high-profile event this evening. The size of his cabinet, the government’s highest decision-making body, is 24, smaller than the outgoing Manmohan Singh cabinet that had 28 members. There has been no formal announcement of portfolios yet, but there are several media reports that seem consistent.

Apart from the size, here are five ways in which Modi’s cabinet is different from the outgoing one:

1) Women are much better represented.

Six out of a team of 24, or one-fourth of the cabinet, are women. This is in sharp contrast with the outgoing group that had just two women out of 28 members, a mere 7% representation. It is also notable that Sushma Swaraj is expected to get the external affairs portfolio, which places a woman in the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the nation’s top decision-making body on national security. Swaraj would become the first woman in three decades (since Indira Gandhi in 1984) to be part of this elite group.

2) It is less wealthy.

The median total assets of the new cabinet is Rs4.7 crore, compared with the outgoing group’s Rs13 crore. The richest member is finance and defence minister Arun Jaitley, who has declared total assets of Rs113 crore (he had a successful law practice).

3) It’s almost entirely educated at home.

Except Najma Heptullah, all members of the new cabinet attended Indian universities. Heptullah, a former Congress leader whose grand uncle was independent India’s first education minister, obtained an MSc in Zoology and a PhD in cardiac anatomy from the University of Denver. In comparison, eight members of the outgoing cabinet attended universities overseas. This is usually a sign of relative privilege, except in cases such as that of former PM Singh, who attended Cambridge and Oxford universities on scholarships. Five members of the new cabinet discontinued formal education at class 12 or less, compared with two such members in the outgoing team.

The success of law degree holders in occupying high office continues undiminished in the new cabinet. There are nine members with law degrees, same as the outgoing cabinet. Because the new team is smaller, their relative influence has risen.

4) It’s a younger team.

Average age of the new cabinet is 60. The corresponding figure for the outgoing team is 68. The youngest member is 38-year old former actor Smriti Irani, while the youngest member of the previous cabinet was 49-year old G.K. Vasan.

5) There are fewer with family ties to politics.

There are three members in the new cabinet with prominent family links to politics, compared with five in the previous team. Maneka Gandhi’s ties are really to the Congress’s Gandhi dynasty though. Ravi Shankar Prasad’s father was a founder of Jan Sangh, the organization that later became the BJP. And Harsimrat Kaur Badal is married into Punjab’s Badal dynasty.

(Note: For this analysis, we used the size of the outgoing cabinet as of April 2014. Total declared assets, and not net assets, were used for wealth calculations. Declared assets of candidates for the latest available period were considered.)

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