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The Great And The Awful

India at 2047 is unrecognisable compared to 2017. Many for the better, some for the worse

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15 August 2047. By the grace of the almighty, we have survived all manner of political crises and wars and remained independent for a century. Who would have thought of that on the night of 14 August 1947 when Jawaharlal Nehru spoke of our tryst with destiny while terrified Hindus and Muslims were being massacred as they fled from their familiar homes, villages and cities to seek safety elsewhere? But we have survived as a nation — doing spectacularly well in some areas, and terribly in others.

India’s corporations have scripted the big success story, be these large listed companies or mid-sized firms or even small businesses that dot the country. Our innate genius for doing dhanda, first unleashed by the economic reforms launched 56 years ago, has gone from strength to strength. Unfettered by dysfunctional labour and land laws, many in corporate India have reached global scales. Pharma, IT, telecom, logistics, banking, cars, two-wheelers, white goods, FMCG, digital entertainment — in each of these sectors we have two or more entities that are in the global list, topped only by the Chinese and US MNCs. The benefits of this entrepreneurship have flowed to consumers and millions of shareholders who have made India’s market cap the largest in Asia.

The second great achievement has been ‘lit up India’. Even 70 years after Independence, only 79 per cent of our population had access to electricity. Thirty years later, every household and factory actually enjoys 24x7 electric supply. People now want to pay for this, and state governments have stopped peddling electricity subsidies.

The third has been a comprehensive modernisation of our military. It wouldn’t have happened without repeated incursions of China in the north east. One fine day in 2020, neglect made way for determined modernisation to deal with threats from China and Pakistan. Aided by Israel’s technologies and small arms, and a well forged partnership with the US, India has up-to-date weaponry for the army, air force and even the navy.

Yet, there are great disappointments. Thirty years ago, India often touted its ‘demographic dividend’. It didn’t come, though the population certainly did. Unlike China’s, our population has kept on rising and is now 1.64 billion people, or 17 per cent of the world’s. For the last three decades, over 12 million people have reached the working age each year. Less than half get jobs, while the rest meander from villages to cities seeking occasional informal employment. Every city now teems with urban unemployed — a situation that often conflagrates into violence against the relatively well-to-do.

This glut of young unemployed is for two reasons. First, over the last three decades, IT and computer-controlled machinery have flourished like never before and dramatically reduced the need for additional jobs. Second, a 50-year story of the abject failure of education is showing up at its worst.

There are four other diseases. Air quality was awful in 2017. Thirty years later, it is worse. Barring eastern India, water shortages have reached disastrous proportions, and there have been water riots in the big cities. While healthcare has improved for those who can afford it, it remains terrible throughout most of the country. And while everyone has got better off, inequalities have worsened between the rich and the poor, urban versus rural and the east and centre of India versus the north, west and south.

India at 2047 is unrecognisable compared to 2017. Many for the better. And, sadly, some for the worse.

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.

Omkar Goswami

The author is an economist and the chairman of CERG Advisory

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