FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
In a new essay, Pico Iyer says our lives are shaped by unexpectedness. Nothing has been truer of 2016. England voting to exit the European Union, Donald Trump winning the US presidential election, the worsening Syrian refugee crisis, unabated terrorist attacks across the world and India declaring 86 per cent of its currency illegal were only some of the highlights. It was a truly topsy-turvy year. Everything that the pundits predicted of the world was upended. The consequences of all that happened will be played out in the coming year, and it may not be a pretty sight. It seems that it will be the Year of Living Dangerously but it is also true that every ending has a new beginning .
In that spirit, we have a great collection of essays from the finest scholars of the world who point us towards what is new and newsy in the Brave New World. On December 31, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the public response to demonetisation nothing short of a satyagraha. UCLA anthropologist Akhil Gupta acknowledges the transformative nature of that decision but points to Cuba and two parallel movements that made Fidel Castro such an enduring icon—the mass mobilisation that got citizens involved in the task of raising literacy and the government-initiated institution-building that ensured equitable access to health, provision of good primary healthcare, and training of a large cadre of medical professionals. For demonetisation to morph into a long-term war on corruption, Gupta says certain wide-ranging structural changes are required in India which need tough political and bureaucratic reforms.
In the global arena, the big event was the unexpected win of business tycoon Donald Trump as President of the United States and according to international affairs expert, Kishore Mahbubani, it could be the best thing to happen to India, as it repositions itself as a geopolitical equal to both America and China. This will not be easy. America’s GNP is $18 trillion, China’s is $ 11 trillion while India’s is only $2.1 trillion. By turning adversarial against China, says Mahbubani, Trump has effectively put China and America at two opposite ends of a see-saw. India should seize the opportunity by leaping on to the middle of the see-saw, even as it grapples with the bitter aftertaste of its overtures to Pakistan going up in flames. Mahbubani assigns a new meaning to a familiar acronym CIA—China ,India, America. There are other trends to watch out for in 2017—the retreat of liberalism, the rise of artificial intelligence and the decline of internationalism. The economy remains a concern and Credit Suisse’s Neelkanth Mishra flags four continuing effects of demonetisation—on the real estate market, the informal economy, banking economy and revenue collection.
2017 will also witness politicians being forced to engage with domestic forces, with as many as seven state elections coming up, including in Uttar Pradesh where a family drama has captured eyeballs with its daily sack-and-salvage operations, and in Gujarat which saw unprecedented demands for backward status from seemingly better-placed castes, which raises a fundamental question about the nature of affirmative action in India. The implementation of the Goods and Services Tax Act will test the notion of cooperative federalism, one of Prime Minister Modi’s favourite mantras. It is perhaps no accident that this year’s theme for the World Economic Forum in Davos is responsive leadership. Every political leader wants his nation to aspire to and achieve greatness— from Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan to Boris Johnson’s claim that Brexit would be Britain’s Independence Day. But how many can summon the will to bridge the distance between rhetoric and reality, making inclusive development and equitable growth more than mere slogans? Those who want to track the answers to that question and many more, use this special issue as your own personal GPS to 2017. It will get you there.
OUR JANUARY 31, 2000 COVER