As India celebrates 75 years of independence with “Azadi ka Amritmahotsav”, a few also have their sights set on India@100, 25 years from now. What will India: 2047 be like? More importantly, how can we plan to make that milestone grand and memorable? Our present resolve obviously will determine our future possibilities. While dwelling on past achievements, it is perhaps more important to focus on the future.
No doubt India has made significant strides to become the fifth-largest economy in the world in 2023, but we have forgotten that in 1947 when India became independent, it was already the sixth-largest. How has it taken us so long to catch up, so to speak, with where we began as an independent country? One way to answer this question is to look at China, the world’s second most powerful — some would even say the world’s most powerful — nation.
Though comparisons are odious, they might help map India’s progress compared with our superpower neighbour China. It is only in one area that India, as I argued in my recent column, has surpassed our dominant neighbour to the northeast, our population. In fact, China is now the second most populous country in the world, with declining birth rates. Our population may well turn out to be an advantage in the longer run.
How India compares with China
But if we glance back about 75 years, India and China had comparable per capita incomes of less than $600 when they became independent. Literacy rates in both countries were below 20 per cent, and life expectancy less than 35 years. When it comes to the share of the world’s GDP, both China and India were under 5 per cent each. And China also had about 200 million more people than India.
Both government and civil society need to
participate in a far-reaching and systematic
exercise in reflection and brainstorming to
come up with concrete action plans to
secure India’s future
Today, the picture has changed dramatically. China’s per-capita income is about six times India’s; its literacy rate is close to 100 per cent, while India’s is around 77 per cent. Its life expectancy is also 77 years to India’s 70 years. China’s share of the world’s GDP is close to 20 per cent, while India’s is around 8 per cent. China also spends about 2.5 per cent of GDP on R&D compared to India’s less than 1 per cent. And, as observed earlier, India’s population has now exceeded China’s.
India’s challenges may be grouped under the following 11 heads: economy, governance, leadership, technology, judiciary, strategy, foreign policy, education, health, climate change — and subsuming all these, society and civilisation.
China’s professed aim is not only to be a fully developed “modern socialist democratic harmonious” country by 2049, 100 years after its Cultural Revolution, but also the world’s number one power. Its desire and design to displace the United States is no secret. What is more, it wishes to offer the Global South an alternative to Western modernity, which is driven by capitalism and consumerism. More safety, less inequality, and greater social cohesion, coupled with higher standards of living, are China’s watchwords.
China is far ahead of India in science and technology, military capacity, electric vehicles, alternate energy sources, artificial intelligence, global influence, diplomatic heft, currency deals, media, sports, and entertainment. There should be no doubt that China is determined to regain its status as the “Middle Kingdom” and fulfil the Chinese Dream of one China by gaining control over Taiwan sooner or later.
Do we have something comparable, a masterplan for India@100? If not, isn’t it incumbent upon us to ask what is India’s Dream for 2047? After the “Tryst with Destiny” speech by our first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the 2012 Non-Aligned 2.0 document on foreign and strategic policy for India, do we have a well-articulated vision of what we want to be when we complete 100 years of independence? Sceptics even ask if India should have a unique dream. They would poo-pooh it as an example of Indian exceptionalism or a belated attempt at constructing a grand narrative.
In the context of such questions and a rapidly changing international environment, it becomes imperative to frame the most important issues and challenges that we are likely to face in the next quarter of a century, along with ways and means to tackle them. We have to learn from the experience of China but also from the best of the West if we have to transform ourselves into a developed country in 2047.
India’s challenges may be grouped under the following 11 heads: economy, governance, leadership, technology, judiciary, strategy, foreign policy, education, health, climate change — and subsuming all these, society and civilisation. Democracy and diversity are our strengths, but the question is how to capitalise on them. How can India harness the power of its culture and civilisation to craft its unique destiny in the next 25 years?
Both government and civil society need to participate in a far-reaching and systematic exercise in reflection and brainstorming to come up with concrete action plans to secure India’s future. Think tanks and non-governmental organisations, in addition to academic institutions, can contribute immensely to national and international deliberations towards making a successful India: 2047 a realisable goal. We should begin now rather than wait for the future to overtake us.
[The author would like to thank Sanjay Anandaram for his ideas and vision for India: 2047.]
Makarand R. Paranjape is a Professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views are personal.
Source: Gulf News