This month, the Indian Republic turns a stately 70 years. As we enter the third decade of the millennium, the focus of our policymakers will hopefully continue to be as enshrined in the opening lines of the Preamble to the Constitution — We, the People of India.
That focus will be highlighted in this decade when India will outstrip China to become the world's most populous country in addition to being the world's largest democracy. The problems we face today are of a magnitude several times greater than those faced by the Republic's founders seven decades ago. Ensuring a population larger than that of the entire African continent gets access to health, sanitation, security and livelihood will be a formidable challenge.
The resources to fund these development goals can come only from an economy running at full steam. Hence, the target of the 5 trillion dollar economy by 2024 set by the Modi government last year becomes critical. It is not just a vote-catching gimmick but essential for solving India's unique set of problems. It is a humungous challenge as the Indian economy is grossly underperforming. Economic growth has touched a six-year low.
India Today January 13 cover, Future Visions 2020.
The agriculture sector continues to grow sluggishly. Farming employs 58 per cent of India's work force, yet accounts for only 14 per cent of GDP. The diminishing returns from the fields have caused a mass migration of people towards the cities in search of livelihoods. An estimated 350 million people will move to India's already overcrowded urban spaces by 2030. India needs 500 new cities to absorb them. It has so far built only two since Independence.
There are other worries. An increase in global temperatures has seen polar icecaps melting and sea levels rising. The years between 2014 and 2019 are the warmest five years on record. Climate change, fuelled by industrialisation, is now a reality. It could extract catastrophic social costs from countries like India that depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Millions of persons could be displaced as water levels rise and weather patterns are disrupted - not to mention the GDP.
The rise of China and its close collaboration with Pakistan, both of them nuclear-armed, poses fresh economic and strategic problems for Indian policymakers. The rightward turn in Indian politics, too, brings new challenges to one of the world's most ethnically diverse democracies and its institutions.
The problems are not temporary but structural and, unless they are addressed, the decade ahead looks bleak for India. At the moment, we are stumbling and blundering along. The powers that be, and that doesn't mean the central government alone, have to work together to bring about some fundamental reforms. And not only in the economy but also in our outdated methods of governance. The criminal justice system is crying out for reform where the guilty are punished expeditiously and those charged don't languish in jail indefinitely. No country has developed without a robust, comprehensive education system, especially in the fast-changing world of today. Sadly, ours is in a mess. We produce unemployable graduates. The problem is further aggravated in a shrinking economy where jobs are scarce. The much-talked-about demographic disaster is upon us unless we get serious about reform.
Our special issue, 'Future Visions 2020', curated by Managing Editor Kai Friese, looks at some of the biggest challenges that the country is likely to face in this new decade. Our panel of domain experts look at the past to understand the big trends in the areas of economy, agriculture, politics, geopolitics, national security, environment, demography and urban development.
Author Arun Mohan Sukumar examines how the political calculations of the State will make or mar the prospects for technological growth in the country. NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant elaborates on why India needs to urgently shed its tag of being a reluctant urbaniser. Former Northern Army Commander Lt Gen DS Hooda looks at the challenges of preparing for, and indeed preventing, a future war. Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai considers the consequences of Hindutva political consolidation in the next decade. Investment banker Jahangir Aziz predicts how a modest global economy recovery in 2020 will give India the much-needed space to reform without worrying about adverse external shocks. Scholar Swagato Sarkar speculates on the future of the peasantry, while former diplomat TCA Raghavan examines India's options in a time of global flux. Climate change expert Navroz Dubash looks at India's choices in a warming world, economist Chinmay Tumbe explains how if fiscal federalism was the key bone of contention in the past decade, demographic federalism is likely to be the important issue of the next decade. Author BVR Subbu comments on the future of transport in the 2020s, women and gender studies professor Banu Subramaniam strikes a warning note when she says Hindutva futurism could see India march back into the past and public health specialist K Srinath Reddy writes on the future of healthcare this coming decade.
As the saying goes, the future is what you make of it. Let's hope we make it a bright one.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, Future Visions 2020, for January 13, 2020)