2051: Richer, fractured, a light-hearted look at what India may turn out to be 30 years from now

Readers may be bored with lengthy, learned analyses of 30 years of Indian economic reform, starting with Manmohan Singh’s budget speech of July 24, 1991. For variety, let me instead write on what India will look like 30 years from now.

Sam Goldwyn of MGM Studios once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.” The chap took predictions too seriously. The aim of 30-year predictions is to have fun, letting one’s imagination run wild, rather than laying claim to astrological powers superior to those of Bejan Daruwala or Baba Ramdev.

I predict that 30 years hence, India will have 51 states. Regional pressures for creating more states will keep gaining momentum. Many political parties will find a new populist goal in making India Top Gun in the world in the number of states, overtaking the USA’s 50.

This will lead to an explosive growth of regional parties. The last 30 years have already witnessed the rise of many regional parties that were unknown or barely known in 1991. The next 30 years will take the process much further, making dozens of regional parties important actors.

One result will be to end single-party domination and entrench coalition politics as never before. National elections will cease to be dominated by big national parties. Instead, coalitions of dozens of parties will be required for success. We have already seen coalition politics dominate the last 30 years. This trend was broken by Narendra Modi’s victories in 2014 and 2019 but will return again. And note that BJP had as many as 20 partners even in the 2019 election.

Hindutva will take a knock. BJP’s attempt to weld all Hindu fragments together into a single Hindu party will fail as sub-castes galore begin to create small parties of their own in every state. National governments created by 40-party formations will take pride in calling themselves “tukde” coalitions.

The demand for reservations in government jobs and education will spill over into new areas. Hindus alone have 1,600 jatis, with multiple caste-like divisions among Muslims and Christians too. More and more will compete for a piece of the cake, and increasingly they will form small parties to push their cause.

The Supreme Court rule of restricting reservations in government jobs and education to no more than 50% of all positions will be blown asunder, and the ratio will rise to 95%. Those who complain that merit will suffer will be met with indignant charges of upper-caste elitism. Gloomy analysts will predict that upper-caste Indians will migrate abroad in search of better jobs. Others will say this is a solution, not a problem.

The Indian diaspora will grow to 100 million. They will be among the best educated and entrepreneurial, and so will occupy top posts across the world in politics and business. The US President will speak with a Punjabi accent. The Pope will speak with a Malayalee accent.

India’s population will rise to 1.6 billion, overtaking China to become the global leader in population. But with the fertility rate plummeting to 1.5 babies per woman, India will suddenly face a rising shortage of workers who will have to support an increasing number of aged retirees as life expectancy increases to 95 years.

The demographic dividend will go into reverse gear. Government programmes in earlier years aimed at population reduction but will now switch to promoting larger families. The old slogan “Do ya teen bas” will be replaced by “Sirf do ya teen, bas?”

The Hindu Right will perform the biggest U-turn of all. It will point out that ancient Indian traditions permitted polygamy, so why not revive our glorious traditions? Why should Hindus not beat Muslims at their own game? There will be a new Hindu Right slogan: “Hum paanch, hamare pachees.”

Economic growth will moderate to 4% per year. GDP tends to slow in all countries as they grow richer, exacerbated by zero population growth. Besides, coalition governments will focus on sharing goodies amongst various factions rather than increasing all-India GDP. Subsidies will rise to 10% of GDP.

One result will be that Bangladesh soars far ahead of India in per capita income. This will turn immigration history on its head and create a rush of illegal Indian migrants into Bangladesh in search of better jobs. Dhaka will complain that India’s old talk of pushing back illegal immigrants from Bangladesh was always humbug, nothing more than preparation for sending large contingents of Indian Bengalis into Bangladesh as a stealthy form of takeover.

In China, Xi Jinping will be in trouble by 2025. Since he will have imprisoned or otherwise ruined 15,000 corrupt Communist Party officials in his tenure, they will strike back. The consequent struggle for power will plunge China into chaos and clashes, with some fearing outright civil war.

Some Chinese factions will suggest a generous border settlement with India so they can divert troops from the Indian border to internal hot spots. As part of the deal, they will offer India the Mount Kailash region, traditional home of Lord Siva. Many Indians will claim this is the greatest achievement of the 21st century.

This article was originally published in The Economic Times on July 24, 2021.

What do you think?