Even for a nation in a permanent state of campaign, 2018 is going to be a challenge. In the run-up to the General Election of 2019, there will be eight assembly elections. Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Nagaland in the Northeast will be going to the polls, as will Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Karnataka. The year will see the BJP-led government’s last full Union budget. It will also be a year when the arts will have to square up against increasingly restive interest groups who have declared themselves to be guardians of public morality. Even as the world seemingly embraces greater technological change, India seems to be regressing into a cacophonous argument with itself, questioning the very foundations of its existence, allowing forces of caste, faith, and ethnicity to be at war with each other, with development falling way behind expectations.
Partly to answer my own curiosity about the future and partly because it is our job to tell readers where the nation is headed, india today commissioned 12 of the best experts in their field to detail India’s road map. Reading them, I realise there are some significant trends we have to be prepared for. The five main ones are the following:
As Ireena Vittal, formerly of McKinsey, writes, a new bottom-up democracy is emerging, which will show a new way to govern India. Already competitive federalism is a reality. In this next phase, our 7,935 cities and 250,000 panchayats will throw up a new engaged citizen, whether from within the governance structure or civic institutions, who will find local solutions which can be scaled up to the national level. This new way of governing will result in considerable disruption in existing power structures, but it should ensure that India’s slothful state will serve its citizenry more effectively and efficiently.
The new norm for economic growth will be 7 per cent GDP growth. Anything less will be problematic and in the year ahead this will not be easy. Jahangir Aziz, chief economist, JP Morgan, believes the pressure on GDP this year is not merely because of demonetisation, difficulties with GST and restructuring of bad debt in banks. It is more structural and he warns that growing at 7 per cent for the next 25 years will raise India’s per capita income to just 15 per cent of developed countries and half that of its Asian peers. Managing disappointment will be one of the greatest problems this government will face as it goes to voters in 2019, on the back of the achhe din it promised.
The twin forces of increasing rural distress and a warped urbanisation will head towards a conflict. Everywhere we turn, cities are collapsing under the weight of being superficially smartened, according to Gautam Bhan, a scholar who works on urban planning. Lakes in Bengaluru are foaming, Delhi’s winter air seems apocalyptic, Mumbai’s bridge collapse underlines the venality of civic bosses, and in Chennai, wetlands are under siege from aggressive redevelopment plans. He believes a policy of repair and retrofit, which allows the footpath to coexist for the vendor and pedestrian, and the slum to be upgraded with electricity and sewage, is a more effective solution.
The multiculturalism that we all grew up with is being redefined and re-examined. Whether it is in the legacy of our built heritage or the history that we grew up with, old notions are being challenged by those who see themselves as custodians of a new India that does not want to acknowledge centuries of rule by Mughals and the English as part of its new Hindutva narrative, conveniently wrapped in nationalism.
The march of new technology will have an unprecedented impact on our daily lives whether it is Aadhaar, e-governance, digital banking, electric cars or solar energy. It will also depend on how we use it, to our benefit or detriment.
There’s much more to read and ruminate about future trends in the next few pages of the special issue, curated by Managing Editor Kai Friese. With all the reforms introduced by this government during its tenure, it will be a year of reckoning for them, where reality will collide with claims. This is the year that will determine how General Election 2019 will pan out. It’s a year full of uncertainties, but one thing I am sure of—it will be a big one for news. Keep watching this space.