The Rise Of Rajasic India: A Peek Into What’s Ahead For Us By The 2030s
India 2030: The Rise of a Rajasic Nation is a collection of essays by experts on practically every subject, from health to education, politics, law, economy, defence, nationalism and civilisational resurgence.
India 2030: The Rise of A Rajasic Nation. Edited By Gautam Chikermane. Penguin/Ebury Press. 2021. Hardcover. Pages 290. Price Rs 699.
Amidst all the current Covid gloom, where both lives and livelihoods are at stake for India, if you are looking for a large dose of optimism, you could do no better than to read India 2030: The Rise of a Rajasic Nation.
A collection of essays by experts on practically every subject, from health (obviously) to education, politics, law, economy, defence, nationalism and civilisational resurgence, this 290-page volume put together by Gautam Chikermane of the Observer Research Foundation will help you to rethink our problems and solutions.
For the most part optimistic, the volume has appeared bang in the middle of our Covid healthcare crisis, which will no doubt impact some of the predictions made.
But here’s the point: as human beings, we tend to exaggerate our present difficulties and underestimate the future potential. So, one should not be surprised if the big predictions turn out to be closer to the truth than our current crises would warrant.
But a caveat is in order: it is not a good idea to read the book in one or two sittings, though that is very much possible. It is best read one essay at a time, for that is the only way you get time to digest what is being said and why.
Single-themed books are easier to read because you can get the general drift in the introduction and initial chapters. The rest is all elaboration and explanation. This book is multi-themed, but brought under one umbrella of predictive writing.
Holding all the essays together is the editor’s own initial piece titled Forces: Consolidation of a Rajasic Nation.
A bit of explanation about what rajasic means is important. It basically means an active force, driven by passion and aspiration.
In one of the six Indic intellectual traditions (Sankhya), energy is seen to reside in three states: tamasic (inert and idle, weak-willed), rajasic (which is driven and active), and sattvic (where there is balance and intelligence guiding actions). The rise of nations, says Chikermane, can be understood in the “cyclical progression from tamas to rajas and back.”
The sattva force, he says quoting Sri Aurobindo, can be seen in some individuals, but seldom in the collective.
The book looks at how India could change in the current decade, and the editor’s conclusion is that, despite some hiccups, “India will remain a vast liberal nation, not in the sense of its western definition, which is imploding under its own weight, but a genuine liberalism that has assimilated all peoples, religions and ideas into itself.”
Looking at how politics is playing out in India currently, this observation may sound overtly rose-tinted, but one should also see the current churn and angst as the accumulated poisons of the past bubbling up to the surface before we move on.
Apart from the editor, the book has essays by 19 different authors with specialised knowledge.
Thus, we have Rajesh Parikh, a neuropsychiatrist at Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital, who has some of the gloomiest prognostications to make. Parikh foresaw the second Covid wave (he wrote his piece before the current surge), and warns us that “other pandemics will follow in the two decades ahead…”.
He also suggests that “as long as there is proximity between humans and animals as a result of the meat industry, a cascade of health problems awaits us, from zoonotic diseases to dietary disasters, in a population that is increasingly polarised between starvation and obesity. Vegetarianism will undoubtedly increase in the two decades that follow 2020.”
I believe that Parikh’s prognosis is a bit too dystopian, but often it is the doomsayers who help us pull back from the brink.
India’s other failing, in education, will however begin to get fixed, suggests Parth Shah of the Center for Civil Society.
India’s education sector has been hobbled with state ineptitude and over-regulation. Despite the best intentions of initiatives like the Right to Education, Shah points out that the focus is currently on inputs (teacher-student ratios, playgrounds, etc) rather than outcomes (learning and measurable skills).
He points out that despite sharp increases in spending on schools – Delhi is often claimed to be the trailblazer here – the increase in per student spends from Rs 22,000 to Rs 50,000 in government schools has brought no big change in learning outcomes. Gujarat, which weights output more than inputs, is a better model to pursue, says Shah. Manish Sisodia, please note.
Among other authors, Ram Madhav of the Sangh Parivar, predicts a return to conservatism in politics, and Bibek Debroy, Chairman of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister, predicts that our focus will shift from wealth distribution to creation. This mirrors Madhav’s prediction of a conservative shift in politics and society.
Justice (Retd) B N Srikrishna says technology will improve justice delivery, something we have seen during Covid under Chief Justice S A Bobde (who retired last month), when many cases were handled through video-conferencing.
But the article does not dwell much on some the real issues before the judiciary and its meddlesome nature: Srikrishna wants the judiciary to be independent, but does not deal with how independence will come when judges more or less select themselves. Merely saying that technology will help select good judges is not good enough.
Also, he does not even ask the question: can the judiciary be so involved in making the law and create policy when its job is to protect our freedoms and the law? An opportunity wasted. A “mansion in utter despair” – which is how the good ex-judge describes the judiciary – is hardly going to be standing upright merely with the help of technology.
Abhijit Iyer-Mitra’s essay on defence is one of the best pieces in the book. It deals with nine trends in defence, including a shift in contracts from offsets to workshare, from big companies to medium and small ones, from government-led defence production to private, an alignment between the Indian and western military-industrial complexes, and a shift to the use of air power as opposed to the manpower-driven ground control focus right now.
India’s former spook and intelligence expert, Vikram Sood, sees (unsurprisingly) a larger role for technology in the business of intelligence gathering, and rightly points out that the three security challenges for India in the decade ahead will be China, Pakistan and Islamic terror. No doubt, they will be aided by forces inimical to India even within the country. We have to see the link between external security and internal.
Samir Saran’s article on foreign policy confirms that the world will become more multi-polar, but he underlines the fact that power will no longer rest only with the state.
He says: “The world will also be multi-conceptual: power will be diffused among corporations, non-state actors, civil society and cities, defying hierarchical state control.”
The liberals who think “speaking truth to power” means targeting only the state will clearly need to rethink: there are now multiple centres of power, and truth needs to be spoken to all of them.
Amrita Narlikar, president of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, notes that if the world is not to slink off into protectionism and isolationism, India will have to work hard to restore multilateralism as a force for good, and this multilateralism will have to be driven by values, and not just brute power.
Monika Halan, author of Let’s Talk Money, connects the dots between the bank embedded in your smartphone (mobile banking, UPI, etc) to the investment world, where our savings will increasingly be routed through this gadget. The rate of change in the financial sector is accelerating, moving from control by the privileged few to a wider cross-section of people.
In energy, Kirit Parikh points out that a $5 trillion or $10 trillion economy, whenever they come about, will inevitably mean a greater proportion of the power coming from renewables.
He suggests that India’s rise to middle income status will be “cleaner, greener and more sustainable than for any other country in history.” Note that, John Kerry, Joe Biden’s climate emissary.
Reuben Abraham, who contrasts Gandhiji’s rural fixation with Ambedkar’s urban bias, debunks the myth that India still lives in its villages. The 2011 census said that only 31 per cent of India lives in urban areas, but satellite images show that Kerala (officially shown as 16 per cent urban) may be almost fully urbanised at close to 90 per cent.
India as a whole may be nearly 45-50 per cent urban. India’s future is clearly urban. Wake up, dear netas.
A big negative fallout from the big Modi initiatives of demonetisation, digitisation and formalisation has been a drastic fall in informal jobs, which has been accentuated by Covid lockdowns.
Manish Sabharwal, chairman of staff hiring firm TeamLease, gazes into his crystal ball and says that when India becomes a $10 trillion economy, 80 per cent of its workers will not be on farms (farmers’ unions camping at Singhu and Tikri, please note, you are ultimately doomed to fail).
India will have 200 cities with more than one million people and with residences that are not more than a 30-minute commute.
This needs huge changes in urban governance structures, and contradicts the current visible signs of urban chaos, but this will happen if India “focuses on productivity, urbanisation, financialisation, formalisation and more effective governance...”. At least three of these five are falling into place under Narendra Modi.
Ajay Shah wants policies to be driven more by data and science, and not by whimsical choices made through the use of arbitrary power. Every intervention by the state in any area will have to be preceded by an analysis of what the problem is, how it can be addressed and by whom. Throughout the process, legitimacy depends on consulting the people and also in the ability to tap into technical expertise.
The Covid challenges have forced India to rethink where it invests its money, healthcare being the most obvious area of deficiency. But changes are also approaching us at the speed of light in other areas.
Raghunath Mashelkar, former head of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, forecasts that 15 technologies will dominate the current decade: artificial intelligence, 5G telecom, blockchain, cloud computing, mobile Internet, robotics process automation, Internet of things (IoT), augmented, virtual and mixed reality, quantum computing, advanced genomics, 3D printing and gene editing.
The PM should note: if India can master these areas, nobody can stop us from rising as a rajasic force.
But technology is also a double-edged sword, as Sandipan Deb, the founding editorial director of Swarajya, says as he surveys the damage being done to human relationships through tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter, among others.
The algorithms used by social media platforms to drive traffic and revenues tend to force us to live in echo chambers, and Deb surmises that political divisiveness is impacting our personal friendships too. Even true life friends tend to unfriend one another on the basis of their ideological predilections.
He writes: “It is the so-called liberals, the ones supposed to be more open to diverse viewpoints and less close-minded than the right-wing, who are most likely to end these relationships.”
Bringing up the rear in this volume are essays dealing with our civilisational ethos: Amish Tripathi, author of the Shiva trilogy and three books based on the Ramayana, among others, sees India playing a crucial role in bridging the divide between pure materialism, consumerism and spirituality and community.
He believes that the new world will have to be guided by a spiritual path that seeks higher truths, and not just truths based on revelations and blind faith.
Devdip Ganguli points out the false conflation of nationalism with narrow loyalties, something that emerged from western Europe’s own historical dalliance with Nazism and two world wars.
In contrast, “the Indian idea of unity and harmony is not uniformity, not sameness of thought and culture and life, but a living unity deep within the soul that can sustain an infinite multiplicity of expressions and ways of looking and being in the world.”
The casual observer will note that this is more hope than reality in present-day India, but the path to this inclusive nationalism is not always a straight line. The zigs and zags will precede this glorious move towards unity in diversity, or diversity in unity.
David Frawley, a Vedic guru, who has published nearly 40 books on various Indic subjects, concludes the volume by suggesting that India’s civilisational resurgence is vital not only to itself, but to the world at large.
He perceives the rise of a new global counter-culture which is increasingly developing new respect for the dharmic worldview, which shows the interconnectedness between the individual self and the larger global and cosmic reality. It is encapsulated in the term Aham Brahmasmi.
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