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Politics of benevolence, not social justice, of Indian Chief Ministers

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Indian chief ministers

The Union government has recently reshuffled the cabinet to include representation from 27 OBCs, 12 SCs and 8 STs. Overall, the new cabinet constituted 61% of its composition to marginalized sections. Most Indian Chief Ministers follow similar paths.

In Telugu states, the Telangana government recently announced ‘Dalita Bandhu’, aiming to strengthen the economic status of Dalits. Dubbed as a ‘movement’, the 1200 crores package aimed towards Dalits was launched in the Huzurabad constituency as a pilot, ahead of the assembly by-polls. Andhra Pradesh government nominated chairpersons to 135 corporations out of which 52 were given to members from BC and 24 from SC communities. Together they constitute 56% of the nominations.

All these steps were hailed as credentials of the government towards accommodating their social justice agenda at the least, if not real power distribution, in their respective constituencies.

Upper caste leaders feel a compulsion to prove their social justice credentials. While the face of the Chief Minister serves as an important category in all elections, the composition of the cabinet serves as an opportunity for the ruling party and their powerful leaders to prove their social justice credentials after they get elected. If Chief Ministers can be seen as a group that wields significant power in Indian polity, owing to the sum of all state budgets being more than the union budget every year, the story of power distribution is different. 

Leaving the northeastern states aside owing to the differential importance of caste in social and political life, out of the 22 states/UTs with legislatures, 14 (64%) are ruled by upper-caste Chief Ministers, while 7 (32%)  have their CMs coming from OBC communities. There is no Chief Minister coming from SC communities. The list of Chief Ministers and their castes is annexed.

The symbolic gestures from parties that benevolently gave away 12 cabinet positions, a 1200 crore package, 24 chairperson posts; all signal to the people that the CM is benevolent to provide space to marginalized groups and they are duly taken care of. Members of the ruling party also parrot their numbers time and again to remind people of their benevolence. 

Caste-identity politics have always be subjected to objectification. Though it is a response to address a democratic demand towards social justice, upper-caste leaders always keep the actual power to themselves. Even the elected representatives from marginalized communities, on the other hand, use their caste identity to negotiate for a cabinet berth, leading to a two-way dehumanizing of concerns for social justice. 

Annexure: List of Chief Ministers in India and their caste categorization

State Chief Minister Caste Category Gender
Andhra Pradesh Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy Upper Caste Male
Delhi Arvind Kejriwal Upper Caste Male
Goa Pramod Sawant Upper Caste Male
Gujarat Vijay Rupani Upper Caste Male
Haryana Manohar Lal Khattar Upper Caste Male
Himachal Pradesh Jairam Thakur Upper Caste Male
Karnataka  Basavaraj Bommai Upper Caste Male
Maharashtra Uddav Thackeray Upper Caste Male
Odisha Naveen Patnaik Upper Caste Male
Punjab Amrinder Singh Upper Caste Male
Telangana K Chandrasekhar Rao Upper Caste Male
Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath Upper Caste Male
Uttarakhand Pushkar Singh Dhami Upper Caste Male
West Bengal Mamta Banerjee Upper Caste Female
Bihar Nitish Kumar BC Male
Chattisgarh Bhupesh Baghel BC Male
Kerala Pinrayi Vijayan BC Male
Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan BC Male
Puducherry N Rangaswamy BC Male
Rajasthan Ashok Gehlot BC Male
Tamil Nadu M K Stalin BC Male
Jharkhand Hemant Soren ST Male

 

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