History of the Future
It was Neils Bohr, the famous physicist who once said, “it is very difficult to predict, especially when it is about the future”. Ignoring Bohr’s prescient words mankind continues to put its faith in futurology. So much so that stargazing is a favourite sport, and a profitable business all around the world. Everyone wants to know tomorrow’s news today. Political leaders in power want to know if they will continue to be ministers till the end of time. Their counterparts in the political wilderness are curious if their inevitable downfall will arrive sooner than later. Erstwhile kings without an heir seek divine magic for the blessings of a male child. The common man is anxious to find out if his quest to become rich overnight can succeed in the next draw of lottery and the poorest, is only interested to find out if his miseries will ever end. Stock analysts try to predict the way the shares will move and economists and political analysts continually place their bets on friends and enemies around the world.
So what do the stars foretell for the future of this great land of ours? For a start, we are not going to be friends with Pakistan any time soon. Indeed, the mistrust goes even before partition happened in 1947. Ever since, Afzal Khan, who on the pretext of offering the hand of friendship to Shivaji, tried to pierce the latter’s back with a scimitar, genetic doubt of the ‘other’ seems to be coded into our psyches and this mistrust surfaces every time a cordial gesture is intended towards our western neighbor. It is safe to say that there will not be a mutual thaw in our strained attitude to each other. If they would like to see us dead, we would be happy to see them likewise.
Moving towards the north, China is a complicated equation. We have not quite figured out a pragmatic framework of options, simply because we do not know enough about what goes on behind those closed doors of Beijing. For a long while, we thought that the Chinese were friends. This is ironic considering India as a country never made any effort to acquire in-depth knowledge and understanding of their philosophy, governance paradigms and ability to convert their ambitions into reality. We oversimplify and generalise international relations into convenient pigeonholes where a fond overture is misread as a happily ever after. Now it is true that we have a large consumer market on offer. We have to find a way to leverage this immense consumer appetite of our country. With so much on offer, we need to cultivate and tempt their businesses into investing in our economy. Furthermore, the anxiety about foreign money needs to be overcome.
Let us try and create the robust architecture of rules and an uncompromising fiscal regime. Yes, we will have to enable the foreign investor to make money, but we have to be confident enough that our fiscal regime will get what its just due for our treasury.
It has often been said that if we get our relationship with the United States of America right, then we have got every other relationship in the right slot. This statement has some substance and merit even today. India’s foreign policy mandarins had some vague notions of the US wanting us to be strong so that we could counter China’s rise in Asia and the world. In the calculus of the US, this notion had little value or basis in reality. The US are quite capable of taking care of themselves. The key to their hearts is trade intensification.
If foreign policy equations with China and USA look like progressing towards a satisfactory answer, there will be a conducive atmosphere to take the needed initiatives. However, it must be noted that this is a steep climb; since everyone knows that steep climbs are done slowly and steadily.
The scene for developing domestic manufacturing strength is filled with many opportunities. It is simultaneously a walk on the edge of the cliff. On the one hand are huge volumes of people needing basic public services and access to state welfare measures and on the other hand there is a huge segment of the young, with hope and expectations for a better life. Hence, what we need is the micro detailing and a feedback system which acts in real time. We have to organise concurrent managerial inputs and reactions. The signs show that this will happen but at differential speeds.
Is the civic consciousness prepared to accept the creed of the rule of law and do one’s duty for the common good? A systemic behavioural change can take anything from a generation to a century. So a dramatic transformation of national attitudes is not going to happen in the next one year. A change will be noticeable as the compulsions for adherence will increase with time. Technology will enable this at a speed we find it hard to fathom.
A mere smartphone handset will be the companion of the common man from the cradle to the grave. The benevolent hand has failed; it is the handset that will perhaps enable prosperity.