By Sajith Pai Aug. 15, 2018
In the India of the distant future, will caste still matter? Will democracy as we know it persist, or be replaced by a newer form of government? Predicting the future is hard, even more so for a country like India.
n 1899, Jean-Marc Cote, a minor French commercial artist was commissioned by a cigarette company to create a set of prints depicting life in the year 2000. The cards are both amusing and fascinating – there is one where textbooks are pulped into a machine which transmits their knowledge via strange helmet-like contraptions to students, another where a policeman wearing some kind of a jetpack regulates a bunch of air travelers. The drawings are prescient, but also ridiculous. Take this illustration of a rural postman.
So you have a world where flying machines are cheap and common enough that a postman can afford one, but email still hasn’t replaced paper mail. It is like technology evolved as far as planes go, but stopped when it came to communications.
Predicting the future is hard, even more so for a country like India. In 1947, India was widely expected to disintegrate. In 1960, the book India – The Most Dangerous Decades by the political pundit Selig Harrison predicted the rise of authoritarianism in India. Yet in 2018, India still exists as she did in 1947, against all odds. Democracy, 71 years hence, despite all of the noise of late, is still as vibrant as it can be in any Third World nation. Given the track record of these predictions made 71 years ago, we can safely assume that any similar projection for 71 years hence is likely to be just as off the mark.
Yet, it is worth persisting. For our outlook about the future is an interplay between our optimism and our anxieties. And in projecting the future, we are essentially unravelling and unveiling these in greater depth. So in this spirit, let me take a look at how India will be 71 years hence.
The merger of previous regional or even caste identities into a Pan-Indian identity would be reinforced by the rise of English for usage within the community, with Hindi emerging as the dominant link language for communication with Regional Indians, a sort of Tier 2 of the citizenry.
Make Way for the Pan-Indians
India, having overtaken China by the late-2020s to become the world’s most populated nation would hit its peak population at ~1.6 billion in 2050, and then slowly decline. In the richer parts of the country, such as the Northwest, South, and the West, the population decline will be sharper and the population grayer. This will in turn spur larger internal migration from more fertile and poorer Central and Eastern India. The consequences of these migrations will have a fascinating cultural impact.
By 2089, Indians in the richer parts, and the richer set in other parts would have assimilated into a singular cultural type numbering ~500 million, that we may call Pan-Indians. Much like most Caucasians in the US today don’t distinguish themselves too much into Germans or Scandinavians, Pan-Indians will stop identifying as Marwari or Telugu. These Pan-Indians would have a fair smattering of all castes, as caste-based divisions become increasingly irrelevant for India’s more literate, urban, and richer populace. Of course, there will still be the predominance of upper or dominant castes, but a substantial minority would be from historically “lower castes”.
The merger of previous regional or even caste identities into a Pan-Indian identity would be reinforced by the rise of English for usage within the community, with Hindi emerging as the dominant link language for communication with Regional Indians, a sort of Tier 2 of the citizenry. Another reinforcer to the Pan-Indian identity would be the predominance of love marriages, or rather love unions, enabled through dating apps, into which you feed not only your social accounts and selfies, but also information about your genetic code, so as to enable that perfect match which would result in a risk-free kid should you both wish to become parents.
Privacy is Past. Going Off-Grid is the New Luxury
Just as with online dating, we would see technology and commerce intertwine to influence society and culture. Our phones and wearables will continuously extract data about our behaviours to serve better targeted products. So, imagine a runner getting a special deal about a particular shoe she found online as she passes by the shoe store, triggered on her wearable, because the shopping app she uses has joined her profile data with the data coming from her shoes. Whew! Privacy concerns would cease to matter gradually as most consumers begin to find out that they could take 30-40% off their bills, if they allowed data about themselves to be extracted all the time.
A small minority will choose to disagree, and go off-grid, by not allowing themselves to be tracked as far as possible, and preventing data-joining between their various digital devices. The price for this would be typically 50% higher, added to the inconvenience of buying in off-grid stores and sites. Going off-grid will gradually become a statement of luxury, for it would mean higher spends and inconveniences. It would be the digital equivalent of going vegan. In 2018, the rich were tracked and pursued digitally, and the poor didn’t exist for tracking and targeting. In 2089, this will flip the other way around.
In New India, the Judiciary Will Make the Rules
Kritocracy is rule by judges, and that is the form of government India will gradually evolve towards by the 2080s. Hung assemblies, political logjams, and the exit of the Pan-Indians from the electoral system would effectively undermine the legislative route to law, and eventually make the executive, led by the Prime Minister, a figurehead. Gradual land grab, or judicial overreach as it would be initially termed, by the Judiciary, will eventually result in political supremacy as well. Henceforth, most national law will be made by the Supreme Court; the houses of Parliament being rendered ineffective over time.
The most powerful figure in the Indian political system will be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice, fellow Justices in the Supreme Court, Judges in the High Court, and District Court would all be recruited through the All India Judicial Services Exam. The All India Judicial Service (AIJS) will be considered India’s most prestigious service (having supplanted the IAS), and clearing the examination and getting a high rank would be deemed a sign of brilliance. Not surprisingly, from the age of 15, students would start cramming for the entrance test to the 30 or so National Law Schools, which would constitute the collective pool for the AIJS examination.
The Indian political system will be studied globally across countries, as an effective route to meritocracy. There will be talk of it being adopted in Nigeria as well, another two-tier country similar to India.
If I’m painting too rosy a picture, let me inject a dose of realism and examine what are the odds of these scenarios ever actually taking place. The first, the emergence of a Pan-Indian identity is the likeliest; the next – going off-grid – is a bit less likely; and the last – Kritocracy – is the unlikeliest of all. But that said, stranger things have been known to happen. Like, you know that India has survived in one piece for 71 years, and is still a democracy.
Sajith Pai is a long-time media executive now turned venture capitalist. He blogs frequently on the economics of media, education, culture and other miscellany. His writings are hosted at sajithpai.com and his tweets at @sajithpai.