2010s: The decade that critically shapes the one ahead
India Today Group Editor-in-Chief talks about changes of the past decade that he says are likely to critically shape the new one, in the December 23, 2019 edition of the India Today Magazine.
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The World is Flat, read the hopeful title of a 2005 book by columnist Thomas L. Friedman. The metaphor, derived from a statement by Indian IT czar Nandan Nilekani, encapsulated the inter-connected globalised world of liberal democracies that promoted the free movement of goods, capital and people. We are now just days away from the beginning of the third decade of the second millennium. Friedman's description of the world seems to have been turned on its head. The world is veering away from liberalism towards authoritarianism and from free markets towards protectionism. Growing protectionism directly threatens global economic growth. A 2017 international trade study by law firm Gowling WLG showed that the world's top economies had adopted more than 7,000 protectionist trade measures, and tariffs are now worth more than $400 billion, since the financial crisis of 2008.
Elsewhere, the promising 'Arab Spring', the wave of youth protests that swept the Islamic world in 2010, rapidly turned into an Islamist winter. The West Asian crisis released over a million refugees into Europe. It saw the rise of the vicious ISIS or Islamic State, a terrorist group which, at its peak, controlled an area in Iraq and Syria the size of Great Britain. Across the Atlantic, a real estate mogul named Donald Trump, who had held no previous elected office, stormed into the White House. He has disrupted old alliances, entered into a trade war with China, the second-largest economy in the world, and exited the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. The world took on a distinct shift towards illiberal governments, from Peru to the Philippines. Great Britain voted to 'Brexit' from the European Union. Events that our 2016 cover story termed 'The New World Disorder'.
In India, the second decade of the millennium, even though it started with a whimper, saw a tectonic shift. The UPA returned to power and not much happened as they were beset by corruption and policy paralysis. In 2014, they were swept away by a political tsunami called Narendra Modi. Along with BJP president and home minister Amit Shah, he is radically changing the political landscape of India. The two have reduced the Congress party, which had dominated Indian politics for six decades, to two-digit numbers in two consecutive Lok Sabha elections. This duo also dominates the party and the government. All opposition politics now revolves around the BJP, whether against them or with them. Governance too has become more centralised and has taken a Swadeshi Socialist turn, reminiscent of pre-liberalisation India.
Indian diplomacy has been more outcome-oriented. A strident policy of countering Pakistan's support to terrorist groups was marked by cross-border commando raids in 2016 and the bombing of a terrorist training camp in Balakot this year when Indian jets entered Pakistani airspace for the first time since the 1971 war. Over 700 million Indians, most of them smartphone users, now have access to the Internet. The rise of social media in this decade has been another phenomenon. Today, there are over 300 million Indians on social media. At Rs 18 per GB, India has the world's cheapest mobile phone data, which is fuelling an increase in data-rich media consumption. The smartphone now is ubiquitous and has sparked an explosion of content of all kinds. Citizen data is now a powerful tool for electioneering. Data, we are told, is the new oil. In sports, the decade saw India cementing its spot as a cricketing superpower. A spectacular 2019 showing by Indian shooters and achievements in wrestling and boxing could result in a breakthrough in the 2020 Olympics. The events of the decade between 2010 and 2019, it would seem, represent a clear break from the past. What else would this be but the 'Breakaway Decade'?
Our cover story, with its collection of essays curated by Managing Editor Rajesh Jha, looks back at what this transformative period means for India as it heads into the third decade of the millennium. Political analyst Sudheendra Kulkarni examines the rise of the BJP, former political science professor Neera Chandhoke assesses its impact on public institutions, former Business Today Editor Prosenjit Datta reflects on the wobbling economy, former foreign secretary Shyam Saran explains why India's diplomatic heft cannot be sustained with a place at the margins of the regional and global economy. Sportswriter Boria Majumdar traces India's rise as a cricket superpower and sees a possible breakthrough performance in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Author and journalist Shreevatsa Nevatia examines how hate and misinformation have soured the social media dream, technology writer Prasanto K. Roy explores the dark side of data and legal scholar Usha Ramanathan dwells on the counter-majoritarian responsibility of the Supreme Court.
The changes of the past decade are likely to critically shape the new one. Looks like we are in for a heady and turbulent ride. Hopefully, we will learn from the past and face the future with optimism.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, Breakaway Decade, for December 23, 2019)