Photo: Hindustan Times
Photo: Hindustan Times

INDIA @70

To mark 70 years of Independence, MintAsia takes stock of the challenges the world's largest democracy has confronted in reaching the landmark and takes a peek at what the future is likely to hold

2017 is a prime number. The year 2017 marked the 70th anniversary of independent India. As one of the columns in this special edition of MintAsia mentions (see ‘The Miracle’), the country wasn’t supposed to survive its birth (at least, not for very long), but has, and miraculously so.

The list of its achievements, recent, and not so recent over the past 70 years, is impressive, as another of the columns lists (see ‘This time, it’s different’).

India is now a thriving $2 trillion economy of 1.3 billion people, at least 200-250 million of whom have been pulled out from poverty over the past 20-25 years.

Its 70th birthday is a good reason to pull out the photo albums and uncork memories. But it’s also an occasion to think about the next 70 years—to 2087.

Like 2017, 2087 is a prime number.

History may recognize 2017 as the year when the future met the present. Artificial intelligence is no longer a recondite science stream but has gone mainstream.

Commercial space travel is more a question of when, than if. Obituaries are being written for the internal combustion engine (including one by that venerable newspaper, The Economist) as EVs (electric vehicles) are making huge strides in not just performance but aesthetics.

There’s hope, backed by solid evidence, that solar and wind energy, and developments in battery technology, could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

And around a week before India’s big day, a study in Nature spoke of the use of CRISPR, a gene editing technique, to correct a gene mutation in the human embryo.

Some people see CRISPR as something that will eventually unlock the fountain of life that humankind has long quested for; the 100-year life (to borrow from the title of the brilliant and utterly terrifying book by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott—see http://go.nature.com/2uZmupW) is within reach.

Over the next 70 years, all of these will affect India, as will other events and phenomena such as climate change.

By 2087, if India keeps up its current rate of population growth, it will be a country of 2.3 billion people (allowing for some reduction, it can be safely said that it will be a country of over 2 billion).

I believe India’s ability to negotiate the next 70 years successfully is a function of four things.

The first is the economic model it chooses. A good one will marry the best principles of free-market economics with some elements of the welfare state (although this is not to mean that the state itself has to provide services related to this welfare).

Over the past 70 years, India hasn’t done enough on both counts. For many of these years, it focused almost exclusively on a socialist approach and its still-recent adoption of free-market principles has progressed in fits and starts.

The second is its commitment to actually protecting the environment.

The third is its ability to understand the difference between majoritarianism and democracy—although this is a universal problem with which many countries around the world are struggling.

And the fourth is to approach, even as it celebrates its heritage and culture, all the problems and challenges it encounters with scientific temper (a term coined by its first Prime Minister) and a modern mindset.

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