A Catholic woman has become the youngest minister in India’s new federal government. Agatha Sangma, 28, took the oath of office along with 59 other ministers on 28 May, the second phase of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s allotment of portfolios.
Singh was returned as prime minister for a second term after his Congress party emerged as the single largest party in parliament in the recent general election.Congress heads the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that has promised to uphold India’s secularism and democracy.
The prime minister and 19 other senior ministers took their oaths of office on 22 May, two days after President Pratibha Devising Patel invited Singh to form a government.
The second phase of allotting ministries was scheduled for May 26 but delayed due to squabbling among alliance partners over portfolios.
Media commentators said that in selecting his ministers, Singh had to accommodate several matters such as religion, region and caste.
Sangma, a member of the Nationalist Congress Party, is a member of the Garo tribe and has a master’s degree in environmental science. She is one of three Christian ministers.
She represents Tura constituency in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya,which has also produced another Christian federal minister, Vincent Pala, 41, a first-time member of parliament.
The other Christian in the council of ministers is KV Thomas, 63, from Kerala state in southern India.
Defense Minister AK Antony was born into a Christian home in Kerala, but is now anatheist. He and five others declined to take the oath of office and secrecy in the name of God during the first installment of the swearing-in ceremony.
Political analysts point out that although Christians and Muslims, who are religious minority groups in India, voted for the UPA this time, their representation in the ministry is much less than expected.
Five Muslims are in the new ministry, one fewer than in the previous government.
Christians form only 2.3 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population whereas Muslims account for more than 13 percent.
The prime minister has given younger politicians one-third of the portfolios in a bid to encourage young people to join politics.