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|
|Madhya Pradesh||Shivraj Singh Chouhan||BC||Male|
|Tamil Nadu||M K Stalin||BC||Male|