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[email protected]: The Future Now

The cities will change. They will become culturally schizophrenic. As conspicuous consumption increases, so will conspicuous violence

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Talking about the future has an odd ring in the India of today. We are ruled by a regime that is illiterate about the future. The BJP regime has no idea of the future as an imagination. It has fabricated a convenient past which it claims as history, possesses a theory of the present which it dubs development. Between development and history the BJP exhausts its intellectual notion of time. Any understanding of the India of the next fifty years has to begin with this caveat.

While lacking a sense of the future, the BJP has tampered with it and this impending future is what we have to capture. For the BJP the 19th Century idea of the nation state is a futuristic Vatan, a vehicle and the framework for the future. Secondly, as a regime, the BJP has destroyed many of the institutions of civil society. The denudation of civil society will help create the political deserts of the future. The emasculation of the university, the flattening of media and the surveillance of NGOs has impoverished civil society and intellectual life. What is gradually replacing it is a network of little totalitarianisms controlled by the RSS. But the RSS is not alone here. It will inhabit this space along with VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and the like. As civil society empties out, violence will increase in intensity and variety with a majority acting as if minorities should not exist. Rape, lynchings, street murders will be the order of the day as minorities will get increasingly ghettoised.

The cities will change. They will become culturally schizophrenic. At one level, they will cater to a huge consuming middle class. As conspicuous consumption increases so will conspicuous violence. An epidemic of anxieties will take over our psychological epidemics like the rise of the monkey man, the braid cutters will increase as government policy sustains such superstition. The impotence of cities will be more than psychological. Unemployment which brought population to the city will now reverse itself slightly. But what will cater to this is the innovation of the criminal classes. An urban city is defined as a criminal imagination. It is criminality which will define the moral cartography of the city. The weaving of criminality and governance will become more everyday as shortages of water and electricity become more rampant. Civil wars within the city will be marked and people might even try to throw a cordon sanitaire around the city. The dualism of town and village will increase and gradually abandoned villages might become sites for alternative imaginations. The government may also stop harassing such groups as they spend hours creating an alternative nation.

 The diversities of India which were almost civilisationally proud of will drop steeply. As food shortage increases, the diets of people will at first simplify radically. The informal economy, which is the real target of the regimes, will collapse as the informal economy gets criminalised because of digitalisation and the introduction of Aadhaar cards. But deep down, India knows that the informal economy is the real source of resistance, of diversity, of survival. The regime’s attempt to conflate the informal and the criminal as a part of its internal security strategy will be challenged. In fact, it is the informal economy that will provide the first forces of resistance to the BJP economy. As modernity fails and development becomes inaccessible, more and more people will join the informal. The informal will begin a new source of knowledge, invention, survival. The geography of these systems will be deep, most of it triggered by the Aadhaar revolts of 2025.

The first of these began in Rajasthan when pensioners discovered that their names were missing. Entire districts were erased in this fashion as they dropped out of the administrative map. Over 200,000 people became non-citizens. The arrest of RTI activists eliminated any possibility of a reasonable solution. Huge areas of Rajasthan literally seceded and by 2030, the Panchayat movements lead by MKSS became a reality. Decentralisation was invented out of sheer desperation and it was the Panchayats that broke the hold of the shakhas. In these movements of crisis, the shakha had little to offer the community and quietly dissolved, freeing the maidans for the Sunday economy.

There was a second source of resistance building across the coastline. The destruction of the coastline was one of the most devastating acts of ecological devastation. It began as a result of three decisions. The trawling industry had come back in a big way, and in fact its security forces began arresting fishermen sailing catamarans. Secondly, nuclear reactors became a problem. There was an epidemic of them along Orissa, Andhra, Kerala which had rendered the sea unstable. Different kinds of vegetation began disappearing. Worst was the Adani-isation of the coastline. The coast became inaccessible to ordinary citizens for livelihood access. Livelihood threats produced their own anxieties and blame for anything pathological was attributed to the new reactors. The first anti-enclosure movement occurred in a small way in 2028 as boat people raced from the sea to capture and occupy chunks of the coast. The private security forces of the Adani MNC went on a rampage, leading to a consolidation of hitherto dormant movements.

The regime had got it wrong. The expected secession came not from the tribes being slowly deprived of the forests but the dissent came from a section that did not enter the regimes imagination — the sea. Huge parts of India had by then  informally seceded. These areas were not like the old Naxal territories where nothing grew. These so called ‘Poramboke’ or wastelands became the creation of  myths for a new agriculture based on traditional practices.

In a way what snapped was not the electoral system of democracy but the federal system. There states seceded amiably from the Centre refusing to participate in any planning process. Public policy as a subject was one of the great casualties of the Modi regime which had turned private goods into a public initiative. The lazy secession of each state or region, refusing to develop put an end to the Modi regime. The economy made no sense as it became utterly regional. Worse barriers between Nepal, Bhutan broke down as they created new worlds of autonomy experimenting with new forms of agriculture. Fortunately, many of the elites which migrated from these states, had become second generation NRIs. The decade of Trump and his successors had turned them into proletarians. Indians as a professional class had almost disappeared from the USA, except in the criminal sector.

A Modi-inspired globalisation had collapsed. Democracy returned to its old decentralisation self, almost absent-mindedly. Indians were a tolerant lot. One could see it in the triptych statues of Modi, Amit Shah and Adityanath which substituted for those of Ambedkar the earlier icon. Birds sat on them in the same existential peace. India by 2030 had shrugged off the Modi era to move to a quieter alternative economy. Unfortunately, World Bank had ceased to exist long ago. The only stories about it are from storytellers wandering through the country.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Shiv Visvanathan

Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad

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